Local News

Senator Says He Knew Very Little About Rental...

Posted October 10, 1996 12:00 a.m. EDT

— U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms knows little about the rental properties that generate a large amount of money for his family because he says his wife handles most of those assets.

Gail Nardi, of the North Carolina Democratic Party says the amount of money generated was much higher than Helms' tax forms reveal, and that there were other discrepancies in his written reports as well.

But after revelations that Helms had improperly listed some of that property on financial disclosure reports filed with the Senate, the Republican faced some embarrassing questions about the state of some of those homes.

Tax records show that the property is in some of Raleigh's poorest neighborhoods, six of the units have no heat and seven of the homes are valued at less than $41,000.

Police records reportedly show a homicide occurred outside one home, while one tenant says drug dealers regularly ply their trade in his back yard,

``They need to condemn them. They put pictures on the wall. You move them and there are holes,'' said Billy Wayne Wise, who lives in a duplex in downtown Raleigh owned by Dorothy Helms, in an interview Wednesday.

Helms' financial disclosure form to the Senate shows Mrs. Helms owns nine rental properties worth between $250,000 and $500,000. But county tax records show the Helmses own 15 rental properties in Wake County with an assessed tax value of $1,071,610.

Most of them are listed under Mrs. Helms' name. Two are listed jointly. One is listed under Helms' name.

Helms downplayed both the inaccurate report and the state of the properties listed under his wife's name in comments to reporters on Wednesday.

``It's making a mountain out of a molehill and I'm filing an amendment (to the statement) and every senator files an amendment from time to time,'' Helms said.

Helms said his wife handled her own real estate dealings, and doubted that any of the rental units were without heat.

``I don't think that's true,'' Helms said. ``I don't know. Of course, I couldn't tell you where any of her property is. She says that every one of them has heat.''

A Helms spokesman, Jimmy Broughton, also said that information on the tax records has not been updated and that all the rental homes are heated.

James Harrington, who has lived in a Helms' home in south Raleigh for almost 30 years, said that wasn't true. Space heaters and kerosene keep him warm in the winter, he said.

Harrington lives next door to a duplex also owned by Mrs. Helms. The homes, which sit near two housing projects, are simple wood-frame structures set back only a few feet from the street. Small yards are mostly mud and dirt, and the homes' bare wood is exposed in places by cracking paint.

On the other side of downtown Raleigh, another Helms' duplex is also in need of repair. Wise said he is about to be evicted because he moved in under someone else's lease. He said the home had been run down since he moved there.

Behind the duplex, signs pinned to a tree also informed loiterers that this was private property. Wise's next-door neighbor, Kelly Lewis, said the signs hadn't done much good.

``This is a drug area,'' Lewis said. ``I hate to say that about my community, but it's true.''

Lewis said sometimes drug dealers conducted their business in his back yard, or more precisely, the Helms' back yard.

A man was shot to death in 1993 outside a house owned by the Helmses, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported in today's editions.

Randolph Womack was killed two days after he had slashed another man's throat at the same location, according to Raleigh police records. At the time, neighbors told the newspaper that the house was an illegal ``shot house'' where liquor was sold by the drink.

Helms' aides said Mrs. Helms inherited her real estate holdings from her father, Jacob Coble, a Raleigh businessman who died in 1962. But county rental records show that only four of the 15 rental properties were inherited or received from Coble.

Calls seeking further comment from Helms and his aides were not returned.

Helms' Senate opponent, Democrat Harvey Gantt, declined to criticize Helms, saying it was an issue best left to the Senate Ethics Committee.

By SCOTT MOONEYHAM,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.