COVINGTON, La. -- When St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed put his Abita Lakes Estates house on the market earlier this year, agents described it as a “gem” and a “spectacular home." With a brick exterior, it sits on an oversized lot in the higher-end subdivision in Covington.
The listing describes a four-bedroom, three-bath house with 2,826 square feet of living space, but for two years, the St. Tammany Parish Assessor said it was only 1,692, raising questions about whether Reed’s political connections got him a break on his tax bill.
Reed bought the home for $337,000 in April 2005, but when it came time to pay taxes on it, a personal note from former Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core shows Reed asked her to review the assessment for it.
The current St. Tammany Assessor Louis Fitzmorris beat Core in the last election. He agreed to tell WWL-TV how the process is supposed to work.
“A lot of times, what we'll do initially is we'll go by the percentage of the purchase price and that's usually 90 percent and then we go off the permit,” Fitzmorris said.
In 2006, Reed's house had just been built. It was assessed at a value of $320,000.
When he applied for his homestead exemption that February, Reed himself wrote on the application that it was 2,000+ square feet, two stories, with four bedrooms and three and a half baths.
But the handwritten note from Core that is included in the records for the property, 219 Thornwood Dr., says in response to their "conversation last evening", she would review all that a few months later.
After their initial assessments based on the purchase price, homes are valued based on comparable homes in the neighborhood.
When you look at comparable sales in 2005, 218 Kissena Ct. listed at 2,800 square feet sold for $305,000.
261 Kissena Ct. listed at 2,700 square feet sold for $318,000 and 213 Thornwood Dr., also listed at 2,700 square feet sold for $343,000.
After Core re-examined Reed's property down the street, at 219 Thornwood Drive, it was assessed at less than $200,000, with less than 1,700 square feet of living space.
That gave Reed a more than $2,000 break on his tax bill.
“We also enforce the covenants and restrictions in the neighborhood. So, we hold the residents accountable for what they signed up for when they bought their house in the subdivision,” said Robert Phillips, president of GNO Property Management.
He said the neighborhood covenants in the first phases of Abita Lakes required the homes to be a certain size.
“I believe in Abita Lakes it was 2,200 at the start,” Phillips said.
2,200 square feet of living area, more than 500 square feet more than Reed claimed his house was.
Core wouldn't do an interview with Eyewitness News, but she said on the phone that Reed had an "unfinished bonus room" on the second floor, and that she reduced the square footage because of it.
When asked to define unfinished space, Fitzmorris said, “Generally it's just, it's just like a skeleton, just the exposed studs, sheetrock, no a/c, no heat.”
Reed's ex-girlfriend Claire Ursin, who he was dating at the time, said Reed's son Steven moved in to the upstairs shortly after he bought it.
Documents filed with the secretary of state show Steven Reed changed the address of his company Globop, Inc. to the house that year.
Campaign finance reports show Globop was paid tens of thousands of dollars out of his father's campaign account for videos and alleged campaign event production.
As for the house, the man who bought the home from Reed this year said that bonus room is only 3 to 400 square feet.
So, should a 400-square foot bonus room have cut more than $129,000 dollars off his home assessment?
Even if the house was 1,700 square feet without it, the bonus room would have to be 1,100 square feet to bring it up to the square footage that Reed himself sold it as two months ago.
Two years after getting the discounted tax bills, Reed’s house was re-assessed again at $378,900, a $187,900 increase.
In 2011, Reed bought a condo in downtown Covington, but his homestead exemption stayed with the house on Thornwood Drive.
Assessment records show Reed has been getting a homestead exemption on 219 Thornwood since 2006, but the man who Reed owns a gold-buying business with, Yancie "Bubba" Moseley, said he was renting it for a year and a half for $2,100 a month until his divorce in 2013.
“If you rent out the property and you don't live there, you're not eligible for the homestead,” Fitzmorris said.
Fitzmorris said Reed is now applying to change it since he sold the house in April of this year.
Even though he kept the homestead exemption on the more expensive property that he was allegedly no longer living in, multiple assessors told WWL-TV they typically don't seek criminal prosecution in situations like Reed's.
In the end, Reed sold the house in 2014 for $395,000, $22,000 more than he paid for it and $200,000 than it was assessed for at its lowest.
We asked Reed's spokesman for an interview with the Reed for this story, but never received a response. We also reached out to Steven Reed, but received no response from him either.