Columbia County, former code enforcement officer sued
Columbia County and two of its former Land Development Services employees are being sued by a property owner who says she was threatened and coerced into selling her home for less than half its value to a county code enforcement officer.
A $390,900 lawsuit filed in November by Angela Alexander alleges she was duped into selling her home on Slavens Road in Warren at a low value to former Columbia County Code Enforcement Officer Robert Crain, after Crain threatened her with heavy violations and fines.
According to the suit, the property owner requested an inspection by code enforcement in the lead-up to a substantial remodel. During the site visit, Crain warned of "a high number of code violations" on the property and refused to issue a certificate of occupancy for the unfinished building, saying Alexander would likely lose the home to excessive fines. He also told her she would not be able to sell the home to anyone with the violations in place, the lawsuit notes.
Crain told Alexander she could instead sell him the home and avoid any legal trouble with the county, according to the complaint.
"Defendant Mr. Crain told her that he could make all the violations go away and that he would not revoke her certificate of occupancy if she sold him 33941 Slavens Road for $150,000," the lawsuit states.
She ended up selling the home, which sits on 1.35 acres, for $150,000 in September 2017. At the time, the market value for the home was $390,900, according to the lawsuit.
Both Crain and his wife, Linda Crain, worked in the county's Land Development Services Department. The two have since been terminated following an investigation that kicked off in spring 2018 into possible coercion and official misconduct.
It's unclear whether the county was aware of the alleged misconduct in Alexander's lawsuit at the time of the internal investigation.
Karen Kane, communications officer for the county, declined to comment on the matter, citing pending litigation and "personnel matters," but did confirm that the county has yet to respond to a summons in the civil case.
"We haven't responded to the complaint yet; we are looking into it now," Kane stated via email Tuesday. "The termination of the Crains is a personnel matter, which of course we can't discuss."
The county did not respond to a records request for copies of code violations or inspections related to the Slavens Road site before press time.
In April 2018, Columbia County Sheriff's deputies served a search warrant on the Crains' home, citing an active investigation into allegations of misconduct and coercion on behalf of the husband and wife.
Property records available online show the home and accompanying acreage sold for $199,500 in 2015. Two years later, the property was sold to the Crains and Jackson Family Trust for $150,000. It was put back on the market roughly a year later in October 2018 for $298,000, records show, but after a pending sale in November the listing was removed the following month.
Photos from a previous listing show no home on site, but a large, undeveloped shop building and a smaller detached accessory structure on the parcel.
The lawsuit claims Alexander tried to sell some of the remodeling materials and tools, as well as other personal items on site, shortly after agreeing to sell the property, but Crain intervened and blocked her attempts to sell the items, "by insisting that his purchase of [the property] also included the building materials, tools and other personal property Plaintiff had ..."
Requests for comment from Alexander's attorney were not returned.