Thursday, July 24, 2008

Barstow's Mayor & his aide artificially inflate real estate values to benefit pals

In late 2000, Lawrence Dale defeated Barstow's incumbent Mayor Katy Yslas-Yent. Dale had never ran for political office but was a very loyal retiree of BNSF Railroad and a candidate of the local good ol' boys -- the Barstow area's establishment ... businessmen who've controlled things in Barstow for years and who meet every morning in Leonard Purdy's auto garage at Barstow Tire & Break.

In 2001, Dale immediately hired Ron Rector as Economic Development Director for the City of Barstow. Rector was previously executive director of a failed Hi-Desert economic development consortium.

While the turn over at Barstow City Hall has been unusually high since Dale's been Mayor; Ron Rector, despite his failure to make any measureable progress in Barstow's economic development the last seven years, has remained on the payroll.

Since 2001, Dale & Rector have used their positions to manufacture circumstances that articially inflate property values to the advantage of the local land speculators, some of whom are among the contingent of those who meet each morning for coffee and Purdy's garage.

In particular, Dale & Rector have unfairly helped their friends obtain land in tax foreclosure and bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar -- land their friends flipped to wealthy investors from outside the area for thousands more than they paid.

They've promoted public works projects that require state agencies to acquire land at inflated prices owned by their pals.

Frequently involved in their schemes are real estate broker Joseph W. Brady and real estate syndicator Quang Pham (or Pham Quang). Also involved are Santa Clarita-based intimates of Rep. Buck McKeon including Hunt Braly.

Since 2003, Dale & Rector have used the city's PR machine to suggest that Barstow would be home to a casino resort and a large Wal-Mart distribution center, plus large-scale residential real esate developments among other things -- but nothing ever materializes.

These projects have yet to be built, let alone break ground -- and in fact, the casino project has been turned down multiple times in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. There has been no official word from the Wal-Mart corporation on the future of the 1 million square feet distribution center.

But the Mayor's continued promotion of these two projects has grossly inflated land values in and around Barstow to the benefit of the Mayor's friends. And among others, the business partners and family members of Barstow City Councilman Steve Curran have benefited financially from artificially inflated real estate sales prices.

In 2006, an entity known as Barstow Industrial Park LLC acquired land from Overland Lenwood LTD near the proposed Wal-Mart facility and took out a $22.5 million mortgage to do so. The same property had a previous assessed value of just $2.8 million. Property in Barstow generally ranges from $5,000 - $25,000 and acre.

In 2004, Quang Pham (or Pham Quang), with the City's help, obtained land through tax sale for pennies on the dollar and then one year later sold it to Irvine-based National Trails Properties LLC for nearly $7.3 million. The property's assessed value is only $1.2 million.

And Dale has served as lobbyists for BNSF. Dale's made frequent trips to BNSF headquarters in Kansas & Texas but never reported any gifts or travel paid for by BNSF; and Dale's used his official capacity and title as Mayor lobbying on Capitol Hill for BNSF's benefit. It's not clear if the Barstow City Council ever officially gave Dale the authority to lobby on BNSF's behalf.

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