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Sun, Jan. 26

Assessor's dealings under scrutiny

PRESCOTT - Two state departments are looking into the business dealings of Yavapai County Assessor Victor Hambrick after several stories first appeared in The Daily Courier this month.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was carrying copies of the newspaper articles when he stopped by his satellite office in Prescott Valley last week.

Goddard said he's looking into issues referenced in the stories after his office received several calls and faxes in recent days.

The attorney general has forwarded the articles to his criminal division for review, his press secretary Andrea Esquer said Tuesday.

The Arizona Department of Real Estate also is checking into the county assessor, spokeswoman Mary Utley said.

Neither agency would discuss the details of what issues they are reviewing.

The articles outlined Hambrick's business dealings with construction company owner and land developer Elise Townsend. She ran for the Arizona Senate in 2006 but then dropped out of the race when two powerful local Republicans said they had concerns about her business dealings with Hambrick.

Townsend was paying Hambrick about $80,000 annually for 40 hours of work weekly during his first 1.5 years in office. He started his four-year term as assessor in January 2005.

Townsend said Hambrick's job title with the now-bankrupt Townsend Construction was director of acquisition and development. Hambrick said he did entitlement work for Townsend through his ROI Land Management company.

Hambrick made three amendments to his 2005 financial disclosure statement after first not mentioning the name "Townsend," land he owned in Paulden and Safford and Chino Valley, and a loan from local rancher John Hunt.

Hambrick said he didn't intend to leave any information out and he believed his earlier disclosures met requirements. State law prohibits elected officials from knowingly filing incomplete disclosures.

Hambrick and Townsend also were involved in a variety of business dealings.

Hambrick sold his Prime Excavation company to Townsend, they were partners in the Potbellies restaurant in Chino Valley until this past year, and they sold land back and forth to each other.

In one exchange, Townsend said she bought 108 acres where she built her Paulden home, split it into four parcels because she couldn't afford it all, then sold one of the parcels to Hambrick in 2002. Hambrick split that 14-acre parcel five times and sold four parcels back to her in 2005, where she built four homes and sold them, she said. Hambrick had a similar recollection of the transactions.

State law generally says people cannot "act in concert" to get around the law limiting unregulated lot splits to five, said Bill Day, manager of development investigations for the Department of Real Estate.

The law about acting in concert doesn't require intent, but the state needs evidence that people are working together to get around the law, Day explained. Investigators in his department generally look at whether the people involved in land sales have other connections such as business, contractors and family, he said.

In another land deal, as manager and a member of H/H Safford Ranch LLC, Graham County records show that Hambrick bought a 1,120-acre ranch in the Safford area for $1.42 million ($1,268/acre) in July 2005.

In October 2005, H/H Safford sold the same 1,120 acres to Townsend Construction for $4.3 million ($3,839/acre), making nearly a $3 million profit on Townsend.

Townsend deeded 200 acres of that Safford ranch back to Hambrick in June 2006, and Hambrick then signed an affidavit of value as seller/agent and buyer/agent that lists the property value at $200,000 ($1,000/acre). Six months earlier, Hambrick had signed an affidavit of value on that land that listed its value at $2 million ($10,000/acre). That affidavit didn't accompany any land transactions.

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