WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Congressman Walter Jones is trying to get your tax money back.
The VA’s inspector general found the government overpaid by $2.3 million to lease land for Wilmington’s VA clinic from the New Hanover County Airport Authority. Jones is asking the new VA secretary to see if the lease agreement can be amended to recoup some of the wasted tax money.
Before leasing the land from the New Hanover County Airport Authority, the VA had an appraisal done, showing the fair market value to lease the land underneath the clinic was $4 million over 20 years.
For reasons unclear, the VA agreed to pay the New Hanover County Airport Authority $6.3 million instead.
“It’s over $2 million in 20 years, and the impropriety of the contract...what we’re trying to do is find out where the skeletons are in this agreement,” Jones said of the ongoing investigation into the lease agreement for the Wilmington VA clinic.
When asked last week, Airport Authority Attorney Wanda Copley said former Airport Finance Director Jim Morton negotiated the terms of the land lease with the VA, and she was not familiar with the details on why the Airport Authority was charged more than the appraised fair market value. She said the Federal Aviation Administration requires the Airport Authority to charge fair market value regardless of the tenant, but allows it to take more than the minimum determined value.
After his initial probe, the VA inspector general asked for a criminal investigation in September to look further into red flags he found with the lease agreement. In addition to the land lease concerns, he found “potential fraud” involving the lease for the clinic itself.
The VA originally entered into a lease with Summit Smith Healthcare in Wisconsin in which the VA agreed to pay nearly $300,000 a month to lease the 80,000 square foot clinic. Commercial real estate brokers tell us that’s about twice the going rate for prime medical office space in Wilmington.
Summit Smith Healthcare later transferred the lease to an LLC, which is also based out of Wisconsin. Shortly after the criminal investigation was announced, WECT learned the LLC is trying to sell the facility to a new buyer. It would still be operated as a VA clinic.
Jones has written a letter to new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asking Wilkie to look into this.
“There are too many questions that need to be answered,” Jones said. “That’s why I want the Secretary of the VA, Robert Wilkie, to take a personal interest in this situation.”
Jones says he plans to make a follow up call to Wilkie later this week, and request that Wilkie personally meet with the IG to get briefed on concerns about contracts for the VA clinic in Wilmington.