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Investigation underway involving The Bluffs after tax dispute

1 year 4 months 4 weeks ago July 08, 2015 Jul 8, 2015 Wednesday, July 08 2015 July 08, 2015 5:57 PM in The Investigative Unit
Source: WBRZ
By: Chris Nakamoto

ST. FRANCISVILLE- Tonight, a criminal investigation is underway centering around the Bluffs Golf Course in St. Francisville.

There are allegations of a backdoor attempt by the State Tax Commission to reduce the Golf Course's tax assessment by nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

The golf course owes nearly $60,000 in back taxes on the property. There are allegations that the State's Tax Commission Administrator authorized fake documents which would lower the Bluffs assessment and tax bill. Tonight, those fake documents have the attention of state and local investigators.

The Tax Commission claims it was a clerical error. But those close to the investigation say this took thought. Tonight, the Legislative Auditor and District Attorney are looking into this very issue.

Two documents are at the center of an investigation that could result in possible criminal charges for the Administrator of the State's Tax Commission. A sworn statement claims the Assessor made a mistake on the assessment which some believe was an attempt to lower the Bluffs property tax bill.

Randy Ritchie is the West Feliciana Parish Assessor and has never seen anything like this before.

When asked if he authorized the document, Ritchie replied, "I did not."

According to the affidavit, it was approved by Charles Abels. At a Tax Commission meeting Wednesday, Abels was a no show. He also refused to do an on-camera interview with WBRZ.

The Chairman of the State's Tax Commission Pete Peters defended Abels, claiming all of this was an honest mistake.

"The form that was used was a clerical error," Peters said. "We sign so many documents in a week's time that we don't totally review everything. The staff does that for us."

The West Feliciana Parish Assessor's attorney doesn't think this was a clerical error. He claims the State's Tax Commission had tried to reduce the tax assessment on the Bluffs Property in an underhanded way.

"Mr. Ritchie was told if he didn't take care of this, the Tax Commission would," Attorney Brian Eddington said.

That's about the time Assessor Ritchie realized what was happening. When he got his hands on these documents, he turned them over to investigators about a crime he believed was taking place. As this investigation continues, the District Attorney says serious criminal charges could result. However, the Chairman of the Tax Commission believes this is all a misunderstanding.

"Nobody involved in this would intentionally do anything as far as breaking the law," Peters said. "That's ridiculous."

District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said he's looking into whether public records were injured or whether false public records were filed. Both of those are considered felonies. Here's the bottom line, if the assessor didn't catch this, the Bluffs would have paid $20,000 less on its tax bill.

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