Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

Most of our stories are not available for download but can be easily ordered by contacting the Resource Center directly at 573-882-3364 or rescntr@ire.org where a researcher can help you pinpoint what you need.

Search results for "property owners" ...

  • Sole Voter Not Alone

    Property owners in Columbia, Mo., got together to create a tax district to generate money to beautify and enhance safety in the rundown, dated strip of the community that lines Business Loop 70. They gerrymandered the district border, cutting out all residential parcels of land and voters to give the property owners the power to levy a tax with no vote of the people. A KBIA investigation showed there were actually 14 registered voters living in the district. In turn, a vote on a sales tax had to be posed to the 14.
  • Tax breaks for gentrifiers: How a 1990s property tax revolt has skewed the Portland-area tax burden

    An analysis of thousands of property tax records found that most Portland-area homeowners pay more than their fair share of the cost of local government and schools, thanks to Oregon's skewed tax system. A small share of property owners, mainly people who bought into rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, enjoy huge tax breaks under the system. The Oregonian/OregonLive analysis is the first to ever quantify winners and losers and the first to identify, house by house, who would benefit from tax reform. The answer? Most people.
  • The Man Behind the Closing Curtains

    A six-month Naples Daily News investigation exposed the dark past of theater creator James Duffy. An analysis of media reports, court records, company filings and interviews linked Duffy to 88 theaters in 26 states. Fifty-eight of the theaters either never opened or were open less than three years. A nationwide court case search found James Duffy or his companies have been sued at least 69 times and been ordered to pay at least $24.6 million in judgments since 1982. Duffy’s business convinced property owners to pay millions of dollars up-front for the construction or renovation of their theaters. His companies raked in ticket and concession sales from theaters that did open, but didn’t pay rent or other bills and abandoned theaters as lawsuits were filed. Contractors that should have been paid with the fronted renovation money went unpaid, as did investors, lenders, film distributors and even the lawyers who represented Duffy or his companies when they were sued. Numerous employees have also complained of not being paid.
  • FEMA's Fickle Flood Maps

    We've read for years now about anger at the high costs to property owners of changes to FEMA's flood maps, but we hadn't read this before: As homeowners around the nation protest skyrocketing premiums for federal flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has quietly moved the lines on its flood maps to benefit hundreds of oceanfront condo buildings and million-dollar homes, according to an analysis of federal records by NBC News. Reporters Bill Dedman and Miranda Leitsinger produced a three-part series showing that FEMA had approved those revisions -- removing more than 500 waterfront properties from the highest-risk flood zone and saving the owners as much as 97 percent on the premiums they pay into the financially strained National Flood Insurance Program – even as owners of homes and businesses far from a water source were being added to the maps asked to pay far more for their coverage.
  • Shakedown

    For years, megacorporations such as Valero, ExxonMobil, and Hines Interest have successfully gamed the Harris County Appraisal District and decreased its certified value by millions, resulting in a total reduction of more than $2.4 billion in tax base on which tax liability is calculated. The Houston Independent School District and the City of Houston have paid the price, losing out on $15.4 million and $9.4 million in tax revenues respectively. Meanwhile, HCAD, which is in charge of valuing more than 1.4 million parcels in the greater Houston area, routinely fights property owners whose parcels are worth a modest $80,000 to $150,000 for every assessment penny. A majority of these property owners have no idea that it's happening and don't have the means to challenge HCAD.
  • Waste Lands

    Today, they have long been converted into parks, office buildings and even hiking trails. But in a remarkable investigation, two of our most intrepid reporters discovered that in these places once stood factories and research centers that the government pressed into service to produce nuclear weapons. A yearlong effort resulted in revelations about what happened to the atomic waste from these facilities and a first-of-its-kind online historical database on more than 500 sites. The government, primarily the Energy Department, has for years assured the public the waste is being cleaned up efficiently and with no harm to anyone. It plans to have spent an estimated $350 billion before the work is done. But despite all this funding, as reporters John Emshwiller and Jeremy Singer-Vine discovered, the government hasn’t been able to find even the exact address of some of these facilities. Records on other sites are so spotty no real determination can be made on the next step. And 20 of the sites that were initially declared safe have required a second, and sometimes third, cleanup over the years. Thanks to an effort that married 21st-century Internet analysis with old-fashioned reporting, online readers can now enter their ZIP Code to get a full history of any site near them. The detail of this database—including hundreds of documents, corporate photos of factories and interviews with current property owners, most of whom had no idea of their property’s Cold War legacy—makes for helpful and at times alarming reading. Not surprisingly, almost a half a million online hits were recorded in the first weeks after our project, called Waste Lands, was published.
  • Hidden Hunting Land

    Woodland owners in Wisconsin get huge tax breaks for enrolling property in a state-run managed forest program. In exchange, property owners agree to allow hunters, hikers and others to enjoy the land. The trouble is, while taxpayers pick up the roughly $29 million tab, few get to enjoy the benefits. Property owners – who collectively have enrolled more than 1 million acres in the program – have found ways to keep the public out, including creating phantom companies to fence off the property and otherwise discourage visitors. Some parcels allowed into the program would only be accessible to the public by helicopter, for example. In addition, the property is difficult to locate, and the state agency overseeing the program makes it more so by not providing maps, access points or even the phone numbers of the property owners. The Journal Sentinel obtained a database of all the land in the program, calculated the cost to taxpayers and created an interactive map, making the land significantly more accessible to the public. The map was so comprehensive that, once the project ran, the newsroom was able to make it the center of a marketing campaign to hunters and hikers – a significant innovation in repackaging existing content in a user-friendly (and money-making) way.
  • District of Columbia tax office scandal

    The District of Columbia struck an unprecedented number of deals behind closed doors this year with prominent commercial property owners who had appealed their tax assessments, reducing the city's tax base by $2.6 billion. The settlements were kept from the public for months until The Washington Post started mining public records and filing FOIAs, which the city routinely denied until the newspaper's lawyers got involved. The Post also learned that city leaders had kept critical internal audits about the tax office in "draft" format to prevent their release under FOIA. Through sources, The Post obtained the undisclosed reports -- along with a dozen other audits that had been kept from public view -- and published the findings for the first time. The series prompted the City Council to change the law to require the tax office to immediately make public all of its reports -- bringing a new level of transparency to a once secretive agency. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched a probe to see if the city had kept critical findings from audits used to determine bond ratings. The inquiry is ongoing.
  • D.C. Tax Office Scandal

    The District of Columbia struck an unprecedented number of deals behind closed doors this year with prominent commercial property owners who had appealed their tax assessments, reducing the city's tax base by $2.6 billion. The settlements were kept from the public for months until The Washington Post started mining public records and filing FOIAs, which the city routinely denied until the newspaper's lawyers got involved. The Post also learned that city leaders had kept critical internal audits about the tax office in "draft" format to prevent their release under FOIA. Through sources, The Post obtained the undisclosed reports -- along with a dozen other audits that had been kept from public view -- and published the findings for the first time. The series prompted the City Council to change the law to require the tax office to immediately make public all of its reports -- bringing a new level of transparency to a once secretive agency. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched a probe to see if the city had kept critical findings from audits used to determine bond ratings. The inquiry is ongoing.
  • Depreciating Values

    Our seven month investigation revealed how a long time property assessor manipulated property values for a handful of wealthy citizens and political supporters, so they would pay less in property taxes. We also showed how some large apartment complexes disappeared from the county tax rolls. Now the state is seeking to collect back taxes from nearly 200 property owners going back three years and the FBI and IRS are investigating.