Saturday, January 24, 2015
Report accused Woolston, Wallace-Bajjali of seeking to cash in on tornado
(The following post is reprinted from the February 5, 2014, Turner Report)
In his statements to the media shortly after he was voted out of office, former Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr attempted to characterize his dismissal as the result of a power struggle and accused city council members of having the motion to fire him drawn up beforehand.
Rohr also attempts to minimize the findings of that report, claiming it was poorly done and was under the guidance of City Attorney Brian Head, who supposedly always had it in for him.
The report by Osage Beach lawyer Tom Loraine paints a totally different picture, reached after interviews of 51 witnesses- one of an attempt to cash in on the tornado that hit the city of Joplin on May 22, 2011.
Among the findings:
-City Councilwoman Mike Woolston bought property from landowners in the tornado-stricken area and also attempted to get others to sell- on land that was going to be developed by Wallace-Bajjali.
-Woolston arranged the purchase of properties through Four States Homes, which were later sold to the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation with Wallace-Bajjali receiving more than $50,000 in finders fees.
-The property purchase system was "largely negotiated" between Mark Rohr and Wallace-Bajjali.
-Some witnesses felt Woolston was "controlling the prices" of property in that area.
-All communication between the city and Wallace-Bajjali went through the city manager's office.
The report indicates that Woolston "entered a working relationship with Charles Kuehn of Four States Properties "within a couple of months" after the tornado. Kuehn refused to answer Loraine's questions.
The methods used by Woolston were described in the report:
Local residents Dana and William Parker deposed regarding Councilman Woolston's actions during the period just prior to a neighborhood meeting held in October 2012, stating, "Most of the people lived- well, where they lived is where the movie theater is going and all that, the library, and they were concerned because Mike Woolston kept knocking on everybody's door wanting to sell their property, even if they'd already rebuilt, sell it so we can tear it down.
According to the Parkers, Mr. Woolston informed them they were "stupid for rebuilding" and when he was asked by the Parkers why a grocery store was not planned for Sunset Ridge, "he told us at that time that those people were too important; we couldn't do that to them.
The Parkers were further informed by Mr. Woolston that a park which had been deeded to the city "needs to come out."
In short, Councilman Woolston appears to have conducted himself as a one man Redevelopment Corporation and one without a clue as to the statutory requirements of a 353 corporation. The Parkers futher deposed that Councilman Woolston spoke to them about acquiring various lots for a party whose name he at first would not reveal, but eventually told them the party was Four State Homes, which he highly endorsed as follows, "You know they build good stuff."
Thus, according to the Parkers, Mr. Woolston was acting an agent for Mr. Kuehn, who was acting as an agent for Wallace-Bajjali, who was billing the city big fees for finding property to develop. The actions of Mr. Woolston, Mr. Kuehn, and Wallace-Bajjali led the Parkers to conclude conflicts of interest, if not outright fraud, were involved.
The Parkers were not the only residents reporting problems:
Residents Alisha and Dustin Brigance deposed that Mr. Woolston sent them a letter in July of 2012 stating that someone was interested in purchasing their property. In referring to Mr. Woolston, they stated, "He was working for Four State Homes to purchase an extremely large amount of property in our area.
The Brigances further deposed that there were at the time rumors of a movie theatre/library complex being planned for that area "at 20th and Connecticut." Mr. Woolston deposed that he had received a commission on the sale of 1825 Connecticut.
The Brigances further stated in their deposition that the only person they had contacted regarding the sale of their property was their realtor. However, at a neighborhood meeting they were approached by Gary Box, a representative of Wallace-Bajjali. Mr. Box was shocked when they told him they were not selling because apparently Mr. Woolston had informed him otherwise. The Brigances stated they wound up selling their property because Four State Homes had purchased all the surrounding property.
They also suggested that Mr. Woolston had not been honest with them because he had prior knowledge of the city's plans for the theatre/library eomplex. They went so far to say that Mr. Woolston was "controlling the prices."
It is interesting to note that their property was purchased by Charlie Kuehn in Fdbruary 2013. As of December 31, 2013, Mr, Kuehn has not sold this property to the 353 Corporation. This property is located at 1812 Delaware.:
The sales contract for the property lists Charlie Kuehn as buyer and Mike Woolston, as the broker for Pro 100.
Loraine noted that Woolston had abstained from numerous City Council votes on real estate matters.
This need for abstentions should place the public on notice that Mr. Woolston is involved in the matter personally and that the city cannot expect his best efforts because of his potential or real conflict of interest.
The report notes that both Woolston and Gary Box "had significant participation in performing the due diligence in the initial hiring of the Wallace-Bajjali firm. Now Gary Box is the project manager for the Joplin office of the Wallace-Bajjali firm."
The report says it is a safe bet that laws were broken, based on the testimony of Woolston, Joplin city residents, and City Attorney Brian Head.
The actions of Mr. Woolston, Mr. Kuehn, and Wallace-Bajjali are unethical since they must be looked at as conspiratorial under the totality of facts. Further investigations should be engaged with complete fee disclosure to the City Council. All business should be stopped under the contracts between Wallace-Bajjali and the City of Joplin.