Sale of state property to prison warden ‘raises red flags’

Three houses near the site of the former state prison, that were recently sold to the present warden are seen Friday, July 1, 2011 in Thomaston, Maine. Maine lawmakers will review the state's sale of property for $175,000, far below its $458,000 town-assessed value.
Joel Page | AP
Three houses near the site of the former state prison, that were recently sold to the present warden are seen Friday, July 1, 2011 in Thomaston, Maine. Maine lawmakers will review the state's sale of property for $175,000, far below its $458,000 town-assessed value.
Posted July 01, 2011, at 10:34 a.m.
Last modified July 01, 2011, at 3:44 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative oversight committees will review the state’s sale of property near the former state prison in Thomaston to the current prison warden for $175,000 — a figure well below its $458,000 town-assessed value.

The property was sold June 9 to Warden Patricia Barnhart and Sheehan Gallagher through a real estate firm, CBRE Boulos. The property includes a house which for years was provided to wardens, and two other buildings.

“It definitely raises some red flags,” said Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls. Mason said Thursday the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which monitors corrections issues, will be looking into the sale.

Mason said lawmakers want to make sure the law was followed scrupulously in the corrections property sale and that all offers were considered.

“We want to make sure this was as transparent as a pane of glass,” Mason said.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, said he has requested files of the sale from the state Bureau of General Services and town of Thomaston and will share them with other members of the committee. The members, who meet periodically, will then decide whether to take the review further.

“There may be a perfectly valid explanation,” said Katz.

Acting state Bureau of General Services Betty Lamoreau defended the sale as proper and said her agency is under pressure from the Legislature to sell properties to help balance the state budget.

The lot includes three buildings, including a house occupied by Barnhart since she became warden in 2009. The house had been provided by the state to wardens as part of their compensation. A message left Thursday at the prison in Warren for Barnhart was not returned.

Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow Jr. confirmed that the assessed value of the property, adjacent to the former Maine State Prison that was razed several years ago, is $458,000. He said the planning board on July 12 will consider Barnhart’s request for a seven-lot residential subdivision on the site.

Lamoreau said the town’s assessment was done years ago, and a more recent “opinion of value” by Boulos based on sale prices of comparable properties reduced the market figure. Lamoreau also noted that two other properties the state sold recently in Thomaston also fetched less than the assessed value.

“It’s been a really bad time to sell real estate here,” said Lamoreau.

Lamoreau also said that BGS was “under pressure” from the Legislature to sell the properties because it had booked $1.5 million in real estate sales to help balance the state budget. She noted that the state also gains in the transaction by not having to relocate Barnhart from the home she was occupying.

“I think this is as good a deal as we could have gotten,” Lamoreau said.

 

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