Vermont newspapers and the Miami Herald carried the story Tuesday of GOP gazillionaire and Vermont U.S. Senate candidate Richard Tarrant, 63, paying more than $4200 in back property taxes in Florida. Tarrant owed the payment on the $1.4 million waterfront hacienda in Broward County, Florida, with his second wife, Deborah Tarrant, formerly Deborah Messner.
Last week we first reported Tarrant had a little residency problem when it came to property taxes. Poor Richie Rich was running for the U.S. Senate in Vermont while his only legal "homestead" in 2004 and 2005 was located in Florida.
When challenged, Tarrant Campaign Manager Tim Lennon faxed us a copy of Richie's 2005 Vermont homestead application for his $477,000 Colchester home. But when we checked with the Colchester Town Clerk's office to confirm, we learned Richie's request had been denied.
You'd think Tarrant and his campaign consultants would have known that before trying to pass off a rejected tax application as their cover, wouldn't you?
Anyway, Colchester and the State of Vermont considered Tarrant's Colchester house a second home and taxed it accordingly at the higher rate. It's not like the IDX Software cofounder, who sold his company to G.E. last fall for $1.2 billion, can't afford it. But a candidate for Vermont political office, everyone agrees, must be a Vermont resident.
The story has been an obvious embarrassment for Mr. Tarrant and his self-funded U.S. Senate Campaign. His campaign blames it all on "an accountant's mistake," but refuses to identify the accountant. But this week, the plot thickens.
Deborah and Richie bought the Lighthouse Point home several years ago, before they married. The title was in Deborah's name. As a Florida resident, she applied for and received "homestead" status and the reduced property tax-rate available to Florida residents.
That changed with a New Year's Eve wedding in 2003. Within two weeks of the ceremony, Richie's name was officially added to the title of the Florida home he owned with Deborah.
Let's face it, Richie and Debbie's $1.4 million Florida home is very nice, but it looks just like the several hundred other millionaires' homes that surround it. This has to be one of the largest enclaves for the rich on Earth!
On the Google satellite shot, Lighthouse Point appears to be a huge, tightly packed development of cookie-cutter, million-dollar homes on canals that connect to the Florida Intercoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. See for yourself on Google "Local." The address is 2730 NE 44 St., Lighthouse Point, FL 33064.
Tarrant's comments to Vermont daily newspapers this week indicate the first-time political candidate is playing victim, blaming the Florida residency revelation on his naivete, and on dirty politics.
"I don't think this would have come to light if I were not a candidate," he told The Burlington Free Press.
"I hate partisan hatred," Tarrant whined to the Barre/Montpelier Times Argus. "I'm new at this, but I think it stinks."
OK, Mr. Tarrant, since you're new to politics, yours truly is going to make a special exception to our bedrock rule about never revealing our sources. You think this was "dirty politics," eh? You publicly insinuate the story was planted by the Sanders for Senate Campaign?
Frankly, we wish we could point to a mysterious, fidgety, chain-smoking political operative we met on the lower level of the Fletcher Allen Health Care parking garage at 2 a.m. one cold night. We wish we could say our heart was pounding with fear as he slipped us a manila envelope with copies of your Florida property tax records. But, alas, we cannot.
Instead, all this columnist needed was the ability to navigate the Internet.
You see, Richie, for years it's been common knowledge around Burlington that you spend most of your time in Florida. That's why it was no surprise this week when you confirmed you also have a Florida driver's license and were registered to vote in Florida as recently as the 2004 presidential election. Did you vote in Vermont, too?
Anyway, one recent morning we punched up a Florida map and figured the Gold Coast north of Miami might be a good spot to look for a Tarrant homestead. We typed "Broward County Records" into Google and hit "Search."
That instantly returned a link to the "Broward County Records Division" page -- http://www.broward.org/records/cri03300.htm. It's amazing how up-to-date online public records are in your home state of Florida. They really put Vermont's to shame!
All we had to do was type in your name and hit Enter, and in two seconds we had your entire Florida property history going back more than 20 years. Man, you sure do love the Sunshine State!
It took all of four clicks to find the official property tax records on your very nice digs in the Venetian Island development of Lighthouse Point, assessed at $1,447,210. It's actually appraised at $1 million more than your Vermont "home" is. Sure you weren't thinking of a Florida U.S. Senate seat?
As you surely are aware, Mr. Tarrant, the Broward County website lists all of your real estate history, including the Big One -- the brand-new, under-construction, $8.8 million oceanfront mansion on the prestigious Hillsboro Mile, which sources say you plan on occupying in December, just after the November election!
Indeed, Tarrant's new Hillsboro Mile Mansion, with the breakers of the Atlantic on one side and the Intercoastal Waterway on the other, is spectacular by anyone's standards. To take a look at the neighborhood from above, search Google "Local" for 1083 Hillsboro Mile, Hillsboro Beach, FL 33062.
Nice going, Richie! Good to see those IDX profits being put to a good use. You've probably been so focused on the alleged "political smear" you're getting for the $1.4 million house in Lighthouse Point, you just forgot to mention the new mansion being built on the Atlantic shoreline. It makes the Lighthouse Point digs look like a dump!
Tarrant's under-construction oceanfront mansion on the Hillsboro Mile would be a lovely home for any United States Senator, regardless of which state he represents. According to public information available online, Tarrant of Vermont currently pays annual Broward County property taxes totaling $187,720 on his new dream home.
Unfortunately, Richie was not available for comment Tuesday, but his campaign manager Tim Lennon told "Inside Track" via cellphone, "The candidate made an honest mistake and it's been corrected."
In a statement posted on his website -- http://www.tarrant06.com -- Tarrant writes, "We were informed of our oversight and were able to correct it quickly."
He did not, however, thank Seven Days for providing the information -- free of charge!
Aw, shucks, Richie. Only too happy to help.
Tarrant's Best Balls -- Anyway, enough about delinquent property taxes and Florida residency. We've got an endless, senseless war going on in a powderkeg region of the world and a Republican bribery scandal on Capitol Hill. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff is under criminal indictment, and most Americans don't believe the current president of the United States tells the truth.
Given that, it's easy to guess what Candidate Tarrant will emphasize most in his upcoming advertising strategy: basketball, basketball and more basketball!
What people really need to know about this rookie statewide candidate is that he was a damn good basketball player at St. Michael's College 40 years ago. And, let's face it, those are the credentials -- dribbling and shot-making -- that really count in the United States Senate.
To that end, "Inside Track" has learned that Tarrant recently rented out Burlington's Memorial Auditorium for a day to shoot footage for upcoming campaign commercials.
According to Auditorium Manager Alan Campbell, the Tarrant Campaign took over the facility on January 10. "It was quite a large film crew," said Campbell. The Tarrant Campaign was charged a $1000 rental fee for the city-owned facility.
Sources say the crew shot plenty of on-court footage for upcoming campaign commercials. Sources say it will be combined with archival footage from the 1960s, when Memorial was home court for the St. Mike's b-ball squad.
We're also told to expect shots of Richie Rich wearing his old Boston Celtics uniform. He only got to wear it at the Celtics tryout camp, but, hey, at least he tried out.
Unfortunately for Richie, his current political candidate tryout camp isn't going much better.
Crucifying Cashman -- Vermont is starting to remind us of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. But instead of flying saucers landing and panic spreading through the populace, we've got a different cast of Martian invaders led by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Over the past two weeks, O'Reilly the Martian has turned the Green Mountain State into his favorite chunk of cheese.
Monday night, the right-wing nutjob condemned the "liberal Vermont media for defending the judge," and told his audience "Governor Douglas, Senators Leahy and Jeffords and our old pal Howard Dean" are "not interested in the little girl's rights."
You know, the more O'Reilly dribbles on with his fictional, over-the-top venom, the more we wonder if the story would have made Fox Nooze had the crime occurred on the other side of the Conneticut River, in a state where Democratic National Committee Chairman, Gov. Howard Dean, was not a resident?
On Thursday, the Chittenden County state's attorney will ask Judge Edward Cashman to reconsider his sentence of Mark Hulett on aggravated sexual assault charges, which WCAX-TV continues to innacurately describe as a "60-day sentence."
The fact is, Cashman put Hulett under the control of the Department of Corrections for the remainder of his natural life. Whether that's spent inside or outside prison will depend on whether Hulett can live in the strait-jacket conditions that will limit his freedom forever.
To date, both Republican State Sen. Vince Illuzzi and former Democratic State Sen. Will Hunter have weighed in with strong published condemnations of WCAX-TV News' reporting on the case.
"Mark Twain, a one-time reporter, said, 'A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,'" wrote Illuzzi in an op-ed for the Boston Globe. "If you wanted an example of the truth of that saying, this case is it . . .
"Television reporter Brian Joyce of Burlington's WCAX began the national roller-coaster coverage on Jan. 4 with this inaccurate and highly inflammatory lead," Illuzzi wrote.
He quoted directly from the Ch. 3 transcript of the Hulett sentencing in which Joyce told Vermont viewers that Judge Cashman "said he no longer believes in punishment."
"That was the lie that made it halfway around the world," wrote Illuzzi. "The truth was quite different.
"Cashman never said he did not believe in punishment. What he did say, which Joyce never quoted in that first story, was the following, according to the court transcript:
"'And I keep telling prosecutors, and they won't hear me, that punishment is not enough.'"
Sen. Illuzzi also referred to "colleagues" in the legislature (y'all know who you are, don't you, Reps. Kurt Wright, Tom DePoy and Duncan Kilmartin and Sen. Wendy Wilton?), who "were only too happy to grab some national press, repeating the WCAX story, calling the judge names, and demanding his resignation."
Illuzzi accused them of "spreading the misinformation that has led to national radio and television commentators calling for people to shun the Green Mountain State."
The latest issue of Vermont Lawyer and Trial Court Reporter features a cover story by publisher/editor Will Hunter. Entitled "Anatomy of a Smear: How Poor Reporting Trashed a Vermont Judge," it's the most thorough summary and analysis of what's happened to date.
Unfortunately, it's not online, and is only available to subscribers -- mostly lawyers. Maybe some enterprising Vermont political blog will post it (hint, hint)?
To put it simply, Hunter's cover story is not one that WCAX-TV news stars Marselius Parsons and Brian Joyce will enjoy reading.
"It began with an inaccurate local television news report," writes Hunter, "with the errors repeated by print and broadcast media. The story was quickly picked up by Internet bloggers and right-wing talk radio, and soon reached at least three sensationalist national cable shows."
So far, WCAX is refusing to own up to Joyce's twisted report on what the judge actually said, and meant. Unfortunately, a dark cloud will hang over the credibility of Ch. 3's news coverage until such a correction is broadcast and posted on the station's website.
Look, credibility is what news is all about. It's why, when yours truly makes a mistake, the correction goes right here in the column and not in some other part of Seven Days. Credibility is the precious commodity that Fox News simply does not have and one that Vermont's Ch. 3 is now, sadly, at risk of losing.
As for the continuing O'Reilly War on Vermont, we're reminded of what CBC's David Letterman recently told the Fox Nooze field marshal face-to-face:
"I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this," said Dave, "but I have the feeling that about 60 percent of what you say is crap."
In truth, Mr. Letterman was about 40 percentage points off.