Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s real estate investment company has been chronically late paying taxes on a vacant warehouse south of the city. And when one overdue bill got turned over to a collection firm, Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand — another prominent Democrat — intervened personally to get it back.
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November 2006: Kasim Reed creates Cascade Investors LLC, a real estate holding company. Cascade purchases a 38,156-square-foot warehouse in southwest Fulton County for $1 million at a foreclosure auction.
July 2007: Cascade Investors purchases another 3-acre parcel adjacent to the warehouse for $425,000.
November 2009: Reed elected mayor of Atlanta.
March 12, 2010 – Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand places a lien against the warehouse property for a $16,392. The bill, at this point, is almost three months late.
April 2010 — Ferdinand and Reed meet personally to talk about Cascade’s tax account, according to a letter written by Reed’s attorney. The newly elected mayor, the letter says, asked for an address change, and Ferdinand told him to take that up with the Tax Assessor’s Office.
May 26, 2010 – Vesta Holdings buys the warehouse lien from Ferdinand.
June 2, 2010 – Ferdinand’s delinquent tax administrator, Terry Noble, sends an email to Richard Robinson of Vesta Holdings saying, “Based on my conversation with Dr. Ferdinand, I am requesting that you transfer the referenced parcel (2009 FUL cycle) back to Fulton County as soon as possible. This parcel was transferred to Vesta Holdings on 5/26/2010. I will have our Accounting Division provide a check for the principle transfer amount ($18,454.38) as soon as possible.”
Aug. 10, 2010 — Cascade Investors issues a check totalling $25,147 to Ferdinand for the 2009 taxes, interest and penalties on the warehouse, as well as for most of the 2009 taxes on the adjacent lot.
February 24, 2012 – Ferdinand’s office files another copy of the warehouse lien with a message saying it was filed in error because payment had actually been received before the lien was originally filed. “This FiFa having been issued through inadvertence,” a stamp on the document said, “the Clerk of Superior Court is directed to remove said FiFa from the record.”
March 12, 2012 — Ferdinand’s office files copies of two other liens against Cascade’s properties for late-paid 2009 and 2011 taxes, again directing the Superior Court Clerk to remove them from the record because of “address change” issues. The letter from Reed’s attorney to Ferdinand referencing their April 2010 meeting is dated the same day, and adds, “We are grateful to your office for having the FiFa marked as having been issued in error.”
August 2013: Reed announces he will seek re-election to a second term.
HOW WE GOT THE STORY
With Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed seeking a second term, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Shannon McCaffrey decided re-examine his financial records and real estate holdings, discovering that the mayor’s company, Cascade Investors, had a history of paying taxes late. Meanwhile, AJC reporter Johnny Edwards has been scrutinizing the controversial collection practices of Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferininand all year, having recently exposed how Ferdinand, the state’s highest-paid elected official, personally profits from the sale of tax liens to private investors.
The reporters discovered an email, obtained through an open records request, that brought the two issues together. In June 2010, Ferdinand’s delinquent tax administrator, Terry Noble, sent an email to Richard Robinson of Vesta Holdings, seeking the return of a lien worth $18,500 against Cascade’s warehouse on Fairburn Road. Noble said he’d had a “conversation with Dr. Ferdinand” about the matter.
Intrigued, McCaffrey and Edwards pored through online tax records and lien records filed with the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk. They also filed open records requests for checks used to pay taxes on the warehouse property, discovering that — contrary to a court filing by Ferdinand saying Cascade paid its taxes before the lien filing — Reed’s company actually paid eight months late. Attempts to interview Ferdinand and Reed about the matter were fruitless, and Reed’s camp offered a shifting narrative that didn’t hold up to scrutiny.
For example, Reed’s representatives said he never received notice that the county planned to file a lien against the property because the county failed to process a change-of-address request. However, the Tax Assessors Office, which keeps up with addresses, says tax mailings went to Reed’s attorney’s office from 2007 to 2011, and Cascade made no attempt to change that until 2012.
Also, Reed’s attorney said he was the one who contacted the Tax Commissioner’s Office seeking reversal of the lien, and that he never dropped the mayor’s name when talking about Cascade. However, the reporters eventually obtained a letter, written by Reed’s attorney, saying that Reed and Ferdinand had met in April 2010 to discuss Cascade’s tax account.