Taking Care of Business:

The Randy Previs Files

 

A four-part Island Times investigative series

By LIAM MORIARTY

Part Four: More of the same …

A few more lawsuits, the Anacortes mess and a curious land deal or two …

 

After the storm …

By June of 1991, the storm that had enveloped developer Randy Previs' personal and business dealings had pretty well blown over. Previs' latest Chapter 7 bankruptcy from 1990 had just been discharged. He and his wife Katie still had possession not only of their home on Olympic View Drive in Edmonds, but their Orcas Island property, as well.

In fact, records seem to show that 1991 through 1993 were litigation-free years for Previs. By early 1994, however, he was back in court over unpaid loans.

On March 4 of that year, SeaFirst Bank filed against A&P Machinery and PEC Investments (both of them Previs corporations). According to court records, Previs signed two promissory notes to the bank; one for $265,000 on Sept. 27, 1990 (just six weeks before his Chapter 7 filing) and another for $75,000 on July 30, 1991 (two months after that Chapter 7 proceeding had discharged over $1.2 million in bad debts). Previs signed the notes as president of both A&P and PEC.

The bank's suit against Previs asserted that the companies defaulted on both notes after paying approximately $50,000. On Feb. 26, 1993, Previs signed a "forbearance agreement," in which he acknowledged owing SeaFirst $297,000, including interest. The bank entered a "confession of judgement," in which Previs essentially agreed that if he failed to meet the renegotiated terms of the forbearance agreement, a judgement would automatically be entered against A&P and PEC.

A year later, on March 2, 1994, SeaFirst vice president Michael McAtee filed an affidavit saying the companies had made some payments, but hadn't kept up with the agreement and still owed the bank $218,000. Five days later, King County Superior Court Commissioner Jack Richey ordered a sheriff’s sale of the heavy equipment A&P and PEC had used as collateral for the notes.

Last week, a SeaFirst official told the Island Times that Bill Anderson -- Previs' partner in A&P Construction and Seavestco, Inc. -- had paid the outstanding loans in full, heading off the sale.

 

Litigation Odds 'n' Ends

 

 

The Anacortes Connection

Previs found himself in the vortex of another controversy last summer when Skagit County slapped a six-year moratorium on a 44-acre parcel Previs planned to develop in Anacortes. According to records at the Skagit Permit Center, county enforcement officer Diana Barnett inspected the property off Miller Road in late May after receiving a complaint from a nearby landowner concerned about the work that was being done there.

Barnett told reporter Nancy Walbeck of the Anacortes American that Previs had cut trees, cleared land and done road-work through a wetland, all without either state or county permits.

"He clearly attempted to circumvent the critical-areas ordinance," Barnett was quoted as saying.

In another newspaper article, Barnett likened the road Previs had built through the wetland to a four-lane highway.

State law requires that the six-year moratorium be imposed on properties where forest lands are conversion to commercial use without permits.

Officials at the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as well as at the county, later toured the property and confirmed that work had been done without permits and that wetlands had been damaged by heavy equipment. They issued stop-work orders and told Previs he'd have to get a wetlands assessment done and file an environmental checklist.

 

Damage Control

The weekly newspapers in the San Juan Islands picked up on the story, and Previs went into damage-control mode. Flanked by his Bellingham attorneys Bob Carmichael and Dan Zender, Previs met with Skagit County officials and demanded a statement that would exonerate Previs of wrong-doing. Permit Center Director Tom Karsh told the Anacortes American that Previs had insisted through Carmichael that enforcement officer Diana Barnett be excluded from the meeting because of the "emotional" impact her presence would have on Previs. The American reports that Previs "categorically" denied making that demand.

But Previs did succeed in extracting a press release from the nervous Karsh. After a flurry of faxes between the Permit Center and Previs' lawyers, wording was agreed upon and Karsh sent a release to all the local newspapers saying Barnett had been misquoted.

"Unfortunate, untrue comments" had appeared in the press, he said, adding that "Mr. Previs has been straightforward, co-operative and very responsive in working with Skagit County. We have no reason to believe he intentionally violated or circumvented any laws and in our opinion, he has done nothing to reflect negatively on his reputation."

Karsh also said that Barnett was not to speak to the press, and that questions from reporters should be directed only to him.

Recently, in speaking with the Island Times, Karsh admitted he had been unnerved by the aggressive counter-attack Previs and his lawyers had launched against his office. They had implied they would file a lawsuit if he didn't "clarify the record," Karsh said. Asked about exactly which statements Barnett had made to reporters were untrue, Karsh conceded that the "four-lane highway" remark was really the only one he felt wasn't justified by on-the-site observation of Previs' work on the property. In the same conversation, Barnett said that, while some reporters "made some statements that were perhaps not as complete as they could have been," she had not actually been misquoted.

Anacortes American reporter Nancy Walbeck told the Island Times she was dismayed when the county issued the release that seemed to say her reporting had been faulty. No one at the county, she said, had discussed any concerns about the accuracy of her stories with her or her editor.

Walbeck also expressed disappointment that county officials hadn't backed Barnett up.

"She was the enforcement officer and she enforced the rules and she got hung out to dry."

 

Waive Goodbye

Having silenced the Skagit County Permit Center, Previs then set out to get Tom Karsh to lift the six-year moratorium. Previs and his lawyers argued that the tree removal he had done on the Miller Road property didn’t constitute "harvesting," and thus was exempt from needing a permit. He also maintained that he hadn’t built a new road through the wetland, but had merely improved an existing old logging road. That work also didn’t need a permit, he said.

Under unaccustomed pressure and feeling unsure of his standing, Karsh wavered, and went looking for cover to the Northwest Regional Office of DNR in Sedro-Woolley. In an Oct. 15 letter, Karsh told Regional Forest Practices Coordinator Jim Cahill that he was inclined to honor Previs’ request that the moratorium on his property be lifted.

"I find myself in substantial sympathy and agreement with the legal arguments presented by the attorneys representing Mr. Previs …"

Cahill replied with a letter making DNR’s position clear: Harvesting had taken place without a permit, road-work is among the types of "forest practices" that need permits, and "therefore, (we) support the county’s original decision to apply the six-year moratorium."

The same day Cahill wrote Karsh, the Permit Center Director got another boost from a local environmental group. Seattle attorney Richard Poulin, representing the Fidalgo Island-based Evergreen Islands, wrote to Karsh, supporting his interpretation of the state law under which the moratorium had been imposed.

Poulin also informed Karsh he didn’t have the legal option of simply making the moratorium go away. The law allows a moratorium to be appealed, Poulin wrote, but noted Previs had failed to file an appeal within the allowed time. The moratorium could also be waived, Poulin said, but not before a public hearing had been held to determine if the criteria for a waiver had been met.

Thus bolstered, Karsh wrote Previs on Oct. 27, confirming the six-year moratorium. Previs soon after applied for a waiver of the penalty. A hearing on the request was initially scheduled for December, then for January. As of March 1, the hearing had not taken place. No one at the Skagit Permit center could explain the delay.

 

The Buckhorn Shuffle

In early November last year, a sheaf of papers appeared one day tacked to the door of a shed on a property up Buckhorn Road on Orcas Island.

It was a notice of foreclosure naming Bradley Sager, Dennis Espinoza, Randy Previs and their wives. Unless $74, 735.80 was submitted to Jon Younger and Kim Spector by Feb. 12, 1999, the notice said, the property would be auctioned at a Trustee’s sale at 10 a.m. on the steps of the San Juan County Courthouse in Friday Harbor.

How did Previs get involved?

In July 1995, Brad Sager bought the parcel on Buckhorn Road from Younger and Spector for $75,000. He paid $10,000 down and signed a promissory note for the balance, secured by a deed of trust.

According to papers Sager filed during his later bankruptcy, he had worked for Randy Previs as a foreman at A&P Construction since 1994.

In January of 1996, A&P Machinery filed a lien on the Buckhorn property, claiming the company – another Previs corporation – had done work for Sager and had not been paid. In April, Sager filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But neighbors on Buckhorn Road say that later that summer, Previs and Sager worked on the property together, cutting trees and milling them up in a portable sawmill.

On Dec. 30 that year, Previs filed suit against Sager for $12,549 in unpaid fees. While conceding that Younger and Spector had a superior claim on the property as holders of a first deed of trust, Previs asked for foreclosure on the property so he could get his money from Sager.

As the suit progressed, Sager never responded or appeared, with or without a lawyer. In July, 1997, Previs’ attorney asked for default judgement against Sager; one week later, San Juan County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock granted it, awarding Previs more than $50,000. Several months later, Hancock ordered the property sold to satisfy debts to Previs, as well as Younger and Spector.

In Feb. 1998, Previs’ attorney Frank Siderius filed an affidavit saying Sager was unemployed and has no other assets than the Buckhorn property. He asked that the property be sold and on April 24, Previs bought the property at a sheriff’s auction for $60,306. (Throughout this period, according to Richard Wren, a sometimes Previs employee who lived in a trailer on the property, Sager continued to be employed by Previs and worked with him on the property. Sager was also on the property with Previs, operating a bulldozer, when the Island Times spoke to Previs on Feb. 6, 1999.)

After he bought the Buckhorn parcel at the sheriff’s sale, Previs apparently didn’t make any monthly payments to Younger and Spector. When the note came due on July 12, Previs failed to make the $64,000 balance payment, as well.

On Nov. 18 – about a week after Younger and Spector’s foreclosure notice was posted on the Buckhorn property – Previs sold the property to his brother-in-law Dennis Espinoza for $70,619, according the San Juan County records. In January, Espinoza paid nearly $1,700 in back taxes.

David Sprinkle, the attorney handling Younger and Spector’s foreclosure action, told the Island Times in mid-February that his clients had finally been paid in full and had released all claims on the Buckhorn property.

 

Meanwhile …

San Juan County Hearings Examiner Wick Dufford ruled last week that the county Permit Center was correct in accepting and continuing to process Seavestco Inc.’s application for the Orcas Bay marina. Opponents of the project had claimed that the application violated several land-use regulations on its face and should be rejected out of hand. But Dufford decided that Permit Center Director Grant Beck and Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord were correct in maintaining those issues were properly dealt with later, during the environmental review.

Beck says the county will soon select from among submitted bids a firm to perform the Environmental Impact Statement which will lead to public hearings on the marina project later this year.

Beck also says that, rumors to the contrary, the county has not and will not put any money out on Previs’ behalf toward environmental review or other expenses. The county, he says, never does that for anyone; all applicants are expected to pay for their own permit costs upfront.

This article is copyright 1999 The Island Times. Reposted here with permission.