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Plainfield Property a Hard Sell

Fear of Hidden Explosives Could Deter Potential Buyers

Plainfield — As the auction date nears for the sale of the compound on Center of Town Road that once belonged to Ed and Elaine Brown — the anti-government activists who took part in a nine-month standoff with federal authorities — Plainfield officials continue to worry if the property will attract a buyer.

The sale of the property is of particular interest to the town because if the minimum bid of $250,000 is received, then Plainfield will be reimbursed the $190,000 in back taxes owed on the property out of the sale’s price. At the end of 2013, the Browns’ property represented about one-quarter of the taxes due to the town.

“There is no one else on the planet that cares more if this property sells than the town of Plainfield,” Town Administrator Steve Halleran said.

But the possibility that there could still be explosives hidden on the property could be a deterrence for some prospective buyers.

The Browns drew national attention when they refused to pay income taxes and wouldn’t appear in court for their 2007 trial on tax evasion charges. They proceeded to bar themselves inside their Plainfield home for nine months and planted weapons, ammunition and homemade bombs on the premises.

Those explosive devices led the federal government to specify in the notice of sale that several state and federal agencies have repeatedly combed the property and removed all “observed” explosive devices. The notice says the government does not believe any more explosive devices remain.

But, the notice also states that the federal government cannot assure that there are not any remaining devices on the property because of the difficulty in searching the 100 acres of the property’s wooded terrain. The notice also says that after the sale, the highest bidder assumes all risks of ownership.

“It doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside,” Halleran said. “We’re certainly worried that those aren’t words that are enthusiastic or encouraging.”

Both 401 Center of Town Road in Plainfield and 27 Glen Road in West Lebanon, Elaine Brown’s former dentist office, will be auctioned on Aug. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. District Court in Concord. The auction is open to the public. Many people think the West Lebanon property, which is more centrally located and unencumbered by fears of hidden explosive devices, will have an easier time attracting bids.

But Halleran said he also is worried about the lack of marketing for the sale and that perspective buyers aren’t allowed to inspect the property beforehand.

“I think it’s a real weakness that people can’t view the property,” Halleran said. “Who wants to buy a property they can’t see?”

Deputy Chief U.S. Marshal Brenda Mikelson said the federal government decided not to allow tours because it was worried that Ed and Elaine Brown’s supporters might try to visit the property. During the stand-off with authorities, the Browns welcomed like-minded individuals who espoused anti-government sentiments to visit them.

“We decided against having a showing because the Marshals Service as a whole would be responsible for the safety of anybody that came onto the property and if there were like-minded individuals as the Browns and they showed up, it was just too much of an unknown,” Mikelson said.

But Mikelson said those safety factors were weighed when a minimum bid price was set. For about 100 acres in Plainfield in a residential area, she called a $250,000 minimum bid “quite a deal.” The property is valued at $611,749.

The properties will be sold “as is,” meaning prospective buyers will inherit whatever is inside the homes. There are still dental chairs inside the Glen Road building, and Plainfield Police Chief Paul Roberts said the Plainfield property has a lot of deferred maintenance, such as siding that is falling off the building, and there are boxes full of the Brown’s belongings inside the home.

Both Plainfield and Lebanon had to pay about $1,300 for an ad that was placed in the Union Leader to advertise the sale, Halleran said. The court order for the auction requires that the ad run in a large circulating newspaper over four consecutive weeks, and the towns weren’t allowed to choose where the advertisements were placed.

If the properties sell, then Plainfield’s attorney Barry Schuster said he expects the town will be reimbursed for money spent on marketing in addition to payment for back taxes. As for what happens to the remainder of the money, Schuster said he wasn’t privy to that information. Mikelson said she didn’t know exactly how it would be distributed, either.

Neither Schuster, Mikelson or Lebanon’s attorney Shawn Tanguay were aware of any prospective buyers. When it was first announced that the properties would be auctioned, Tanguay said he received a number of calls from local dentists interested in the property, but said he hasn’t recently heard from any prospective buyers.

“The town of Plainfield needs this to sell and it isn’t comforting,” Halleran said. “Will people show up? Will people meet the minimum bid?”

And if the properties don’t sell?

Mikelson said if the properties don’t meet the minimum bids, then another auction will likely be held. The minimum bids have been set at $250,000 for the Plainfield property and $507,500 for the Glen Road property — which is assessed at $916,000. If the properties don’t sell, then the federal government would reassess its strategy and could lower the minimum asking price and hold a new auction.

There are a lot of unknowns for the U.S. Marshals Service because it is not typically in the business of auctioning off properties. Mikelson said this is the first auction of its kind that she can remember in her 22 years with the agency.

Halleran said if the Plainfield property doesn’t sell, the town would likely consult with lawyers and could potentially look into taking over ownership and sell the property itself.

As for Lebanon, it’s not as concerned about the property going unsold because the city has a bigger tax base to rely upon. Lebanon Finance Director Len Jarvi said the Glen Road property represents only a small percentage of the city’s outstanding taxes, even though the city is owed more than $265,000 on the property.

Star Johnson, a Hanover realtor, said he doesn’t know much about the properties, but said he would imagine that the potential for explosive devices to be on the Plainfield property could deter prospective buyers.

Johnson agreed that not having the ability to inspect the property prior to the auction could hurt potential bids, but he said prospective buyers can gather information from other sources, like assessing records. He thinks the Glen Road property probably has a decent chance of selling.

“It looks from the outside to be a fairly substantial building in a good location in a good area and it seems there would be value there and marketable,” Johnson said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com .