The Still Waters of Lincoln County’s Lots of Murder

Tragedy…… when you lose control and you got no soul, It’s tragedy

The BeeGees

In the heady days of 2005, as the real estate bubble was inflating in full force, James Robert “Bob” Ward was lifting helicopter rides to show off many of the 8 subdivisions in 5 states his company, Land Resources, Inc., was marketing worldwide. A short six years later Ward was in prison with a thirty year sentence for the murder of his wife. The bullet that ended her life wasn’t fired in the northern reaches of Lincoln County, Georgia but the lingering tears of tragedy still water the financial landscape of the less than 8000 permanent citizens of the county and hapless investing victims far away.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Land Resources was founded in 1997 and had successfully completed a number of subdivisions in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. Most providently HGTV picked Land Resource developments Cumberland Harbor and Grey Rock for two of its million-dollar home giveaways. Trouble arose from 2005, when Stillwater Coves in Lincoln County was announced, through 2008. A pattern emerged of unsophisticated, mostly rural county governments allowing Land Resources to market and sell lots before the basic infrastructure was completed to permit home-building. In 2008 Land Resources filed for bankruptcy protection. Suddenly lots that had sold for $300,000 were virtually worthless.

Bob Ward began this saga in Atlanta. Near the height of selling hundreds of millions of dollars of hot resort real estate in 2007, Ward and his wife moved to the Islesworth community in Orlando, Florida, this being also home to golfer Tiger Woods and his beating from wife Elin. When Bob Ward became subject of a criminal investigation, his wife Diane was called to testify, apparently causing the developer to shoot her in their bedroom in September 2009. The murder trial, incarceration, conviction, appeal, retrial, and drug overdose in prison made a twisting, turning and very compelling tabloid story. An excellent timeline from the perspective of the Grey Rock development can be found here.

The Big Four (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News), CNN, The Orlando Sentinel (a series on the saga), Atlanta Constitution, various Florida TV stations and even the UK Mirror jumped all over the murder tragedy and the accompanying trial, yet missed the total tragedy. The connection to the Greater Financial Crisis that became manifest in 2008 and which has morphed into a world-consuming monster went unnoticed. The Augusta area media seemingly slept through it all, especially the Lincoln County connection. The closest article to do it and the only one found to actually mention the murder trial was an article by the Augusta Chronicle’s LaTina Emerson of October 15, 2009 reporting that the successor to Ward’s bankrupt Land Resources had promised that the development remained on track for 2010. Amazingly it took one of the lowly commenters to note “…..the original developer being tried for murder? Seems it would be a story.

Indeed it was. Ward’s Land Resources had sold out its Stillwater Cove lots in one week , garnering a reported $43 million(the author’s spreadsheet says $27 million) in the process. At the time of bankruptcy, the paving and grading of the roads had been completed, with water, sewer and fire protection systems only partially complete. Fortunately, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, under the direction of then Chairman Walker “Boss Hog” Norman, had insulated the county from all liability, obtaining performance and payment bonds on the crucial infrastructure before lots were allowed to be sold.

Most of the development was financed by Wachovia Bank, a rogue financial institution whose sullied name can be found in Augusta’s Parking Deck and Convention Center fiascos, the 2008 financial decimation of Augusta’s blueblood society, money laundering nearly a half-billion dollars for the Mexican drug cartel, identity fraud against elderly customers, selling $9 billion of bad securities as money-good, and $millions on mortgage fraud. There is much more to be reported in these pages on this bank. Those are stories for another day.

Elsewhere in county government, the tempting lure of the hundreds of millions of dollars in additions to the property tax base represented by the full build out of Stillwater Coves and the other lakefront subdivisions created in the boom was too great. Lincoln County needed a modern high school and that need had found a promising revenue stream. It was a case of chickens counted that were never to hatch. The Lincoln County Board of Education voted to build a $32 million new school complex to house junior high school and high school students. Financing for the project was to be $23 million. R.W. Allen LLC was engaged to construct the complex.

More bad news erupted in 2009 when it was discovered that the bonds protecting the Stillwater Coves lot buyers had been issued in an even bigger fraud. An insurance man named Ray Miller had sold fictitious bonds covering more than $500 million in projects. The bonds covering one of the water systems at Stillwater Coves proved to be worthless. The county doesn’t seem to be at fault, however, for most of the bonds had been forged in the name of legitimate bond insurors. Perhaps the only mistake that the county made was to allow reduction, perhaps too early, in some of the coverage on the bonds that were good. Perhaps the discipline to achieve completion of infrastructure before any subdivision lots are sold is better. Tragedy would have been averted!

The school board found itself in a fiasco when it decided to house only high school students in the new school, keeping the junior students at an old school. The State Board of Education withheld funds based upon the fact that the school it agreed to fund was for grades 6-12. Citizens cried FRAUD and for good reason.

Many of the lot buyers lost their life savings in the meltdown of the Land Resources empire. Diane Ward lost her life. Lincoln County found itself financially crippled with extraordinarly high property taxes created by the school bond debt, a collapsed lake front property tax base, and the reality that three successive property tax exemptions involving timberland removed two thirds of the county from the tax digest. Existing residential property owners bore the brunt of the damage, with elderly property owners denied exemptions from school taxes afforded citizens of Columbia and Richmond Counties because their money was needed to service the bonds. The corrupt shell of Wachovia Bank continues to threaten the viability of Wells Fargo Bank, who had the misfortune of wanting the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to fold Wachovia into their operations. The lots themselves might not ever be viable, as they were drawn up to be served by a sewage system that languishes without paying customers.

The waters remain still up on Graball Road but the tragedy continues.

At least now it isn’t an untold tragedy in Augusta and the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia and South Carolina. Lessons are never learned from things covered up.

Agraynation.com gets the big stories of our times and tries to make our readers think about what they mean.

No Opting Out of The Greatest Transition

You got your demons, you got desires, well I’ve got a few of my own – Don Henley

Four years ago, a loose coalition of citizens came together to bring a powerful blend of research, online publication, media presence, and reform to Augusta, Georgia and east central Georgia. One started a blog named City Stink, that moniker being a statement of admiration for long-time Augusta Chronicle columnist Sylvia Cooper and her column City Ink, yet impishly labeling the town as the source for all manner of unsavory things. Augusta wasn’t the sole target, either. The archives of Agraynation are amply populated with the City Stink posts, which retain power and utility for change.

As with all human endeavors, members grew weary, lost stomach for the political idiocy, and allowed personal differences to intercede in what was a wonderful community effort. During a nearly two year hiatus, individuals in the group ventured out on various initiatives, successfully defeating SPLOST 7a in Augusta and forcing SPLOST 7b proponents to slash waste, while promising reforms. Members of the Facebook groups Augusta Today and Augusta Political Watch, along with old participants in the City Stink effort, have used the interruption in the fray to observe what transpired in the vacuum and how positive developments proceeded from those action-filled 30 months.

The methods were proven. Mistakes were made, but those were instructive.  Glenn Frey, the late Eagle and co-writer of “One of these Nights” said “We all have our dreams, a vision we hope will come true someday. When that ‘someday’ will come is up to each of us.” Yes, our demons and desires got in the way of continued success, but the need for action has never been greater.

America has lost nearly every institution with direct responsibility to control financial matters and the Rule of Law, foundation of social stability, is for practical matters dead. The Accountants have abandoned financial standards that protected us for decades. The Lawmakers have rewritten the Law to legalize fraud. The Ministry has thrown “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL” out of the Ten Commandments. The Bankers have destroyed one of the two functions that make the United States Dollar “money” and are on the brink of killing the other. The Media have been either silenced or captivated.

We have the tools to overcome it all. The Augusta reformers proved several important techniques and strategies. As great as the challenges are, the technology and methods are here to overcome them all. All that is missing is desire to make it happen.

Laughter is the best medicine and there are bounteous sources of outrageous humor that only need a little attention to have everyone laughing on the way to restoring our cities, counties, states and America. We are in the midst of the greatest transformation and transition in 400 years, if not all of human history.

“Agraynation” perhaps sounds a lot like “aggravation” to some. The subscribers list is stale, yet there are many in the community and state included in the automatic notification feature. Posts may be coming faster than you like via your email account. If so please UNSUBSCRIBE if you get one notification too many. Please accept my apology if notification that accompanies this post is that “one too many.”

Thanks to everyone for you encouragement, support, and participation. And……..welcome back to the fray.

– The Arrowflinger

 

Can Augusta Media Mimic Copperfield and Make Parking Deck Vanish?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
Augusta’s $715,000 “Incidental” Gift1


David Copperfield’s illusion of making the Statue of Liberty disappearis“listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest disappearance ever performed by a magician. ” In the closed-loop, incestuous world of Augusta media, similar miracles have been performed over the years, mostly by using the tactic of blowing up small incidents of monetary losses, -be they by graft, fraud, or plain stupidity – to divert attention from the elephants in the room. Grandma used to call this “straining gnats while swallowing camels.” The Reynolds Street Parking Deck doesn’t have tusks or a hump, but some folks who know better have camel hair on their bibs.

The bit players in the Augusta illusion are officials like Tax Commissioner Stephen Kendrick, who was still being hounded by the Augusta Chronicle a year later over a missing $25,000, and former city commissioner Betty  Beard’s  $20,000 supposed misappropriation of funds.
What Fred Russell made go away looked like this:

What Fred reappeared wasn’t an elephant, it was much larger:


If you are Augusta Riverfront, LLC, Fred relieved you of an ugly, unattended surface lot. What he came back with appears to be an enclosed, lighted, secure, landscaped, and operated lot at no capital or operating cost. 

Sweet. It must be nice to be a principal partner of Augusta Riverfront, LLC and the publisher of the only daily newspaper in the city, The Augusta Chronicle, where you can use your  influence in the media to create illusions through the art of distraction, just like David Copperfield.
Everyone should be so lucky as to negotiate a deal with Fred Russell like this.***

A.G.
1 Based upon the RSPD agreement submitted to the Board of Commissioners 1/30/2012




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