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Thursday, March 17, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police chief in Spokane defends deal

SPOKANE — The Spokane City Council is being asked to approve the purchase of a warehouse the Spokane Police Department wants to buy from one of its former officers.

The property in the Hillyard neighborhood is owned by Chuck Crabtree, who retired in 1981 as captain, and his wife, Delores.

A real-estate agent who helped broker the $410,000 deal is John Sullivan, a retired assistant police chief.

City officials insisted Tuesday that the police connections are coincidence and that the deal was negotiated by a private real-estate firm brought in to avoid the perception of a conflict.

Deputy Police Chief Al Odenthal said a new evidence warehouse is needed because the department's downtown facility doesn't meet building safety codes and is a fire hazard. Built in 1907, it is nearly twice as big as Crabtree's warehouse.

The department already has been leasing a portion of Crabtree's warehouse for evidence storage.

Odenthal bristled when a reporter from The Spokesman-Review asked about the deal.

"I don't care if it was Chuck Crabtree or [former mayor] Sheri Barnard," Odenthal said. "If you want to write this is a former police officer who got a sweet deal, then write it. I never talked to Chuck Crabtree. I never talked to John Sullivan. I just dealt with my real-estate agent like I was buying my own house."

County records indicate Crabtree purchased the Hillyard property along Market Street in 2000 for about $100,000. A year later, he erected a warehouse-office building. The building was estimated to be worth $230,000 at the time of construction, according to a city building permit.

The Police Department wants to use the 7,700-square-foot building to store evidence seized in crimes. Money for the purchase would come from money obtained through the sale of criminal-property forfeitures.

Spokane County has the property assessed at $303,000 for tax purposes but assessed tax values are typically lower than market values.

The city enlisted its independent agent to approach listing agent Rod Plese about a purchase. Plese said the agent, Tracy Lucas, of Kiemle and Hagood Co., initially did not say whom he was representing.

Police Information Bureau director Dave Ingle said Lucas was brought into the deal to provide a layer of separation between the seller and the Police Department.

Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch said Police Chief Roger Bragdon disclosed the connection in recommending the purchase. The deal got approval from the city's legal department, as long as the property was worth the sale price based on an appraisal.

The negotiated price of $410,000 was a midpoint between the city's initial offer of $395,000 and Crabtree's asking price of $425,000, officials said. An appraisal is expected before the deal is closed, they said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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