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Man wins 60 parcels in Alaska land sale but pays for just one

  • Author: Sean Doogan
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 28, 2015

The state of Alaska is revisiting the way it sells lands to the public after a Washington state man won 60 land parcels in a recent land sale, but bought just one. Joe Carrillo said he was just playing the odds and only really wanted a few of the properties for which he applied.

Carrillo, 54, lives in Wenatchee, Washington. He won more than half of all the parcels offered in the Alaska Division of Mining, Land, and Water's initial over the counter drawing sale on Sept. 16.

Normally, people applying for any parcel in the sale must pay 5 percent of the land's market value as a fee if they win the chance to buy the land, but ultimately decide not to purchase it. But Carrillo paid the 5 percent down on just one parcel: a 4.93-acre plot of scrub brush and black spruce trees near Dune Lake, about 45 air miles southwest of Fairbanks.

The state said the credit card Carrillo provided when he signed up for the drawing -- and the one that would have been used to pay the 5 percent on the other 59 properties -- was invalid.

The office that sells the land said it has no plans to pursue legal action for the money, adding that Carrillo is even eligible for a five-year state payment program for the one property he did buy.

Kathryn Young, the Department of Natural Resources section manager, said the state was not going to press Carrillo to pay the money he owed on parcels he didn't purchase because it has never gone after others in similar situations -- those whose checks or credit cards couldn't cover the fees.

But Carillo's case is unusual.

"We have never seen anyone apply for, or reject this many (parcels of land). So, for the few that this has happened to -- it has not been worth our time, or effort, to go after them for $500 or $2,000," Young said. "We will be reviewing our process and rethink some of our policies."

Young said for the 60 properties Carrillo won, the bill would have been about $29,000.

Carrillo said he understood he would be on the hook for 5 percent of the value of any land for which he applied and won, but he never expected to win so many parcels.

"I had no idea which one I would win, because it's a lottery," Carrillo said. "So I applied for a bunch that I was interested in, hoping I would get one, and I ended up getting a whole bunch. I was very surprised."

Carrillo said he would have bought more pieces of land he won, but the recent purchase of a 33-foot-long sailboat he plans to cruise to Alaska next spring took a lot of his funds. Carrillo said he has no plans to pay the money he owed on the land he didn't buy.

"I am just telling you what I did," Carrillo said when asked about the bill.

Carrillo, who said he worked in Internet commerce but declined to give additional details, said he was looking forward to becoming an Alaska resident and buying more land.

"I've never been there before," Carrillo said.

The property he ultimately agreed to purchase is located in Dune Lake. It's accessible only by floatplane, snowmachine or ATV.

"It's a beautiful area and away from things -- and I always wanted to go up there," Carrillo said.

With the exception of using an invalid credit card to secure his land applications, what Carillo did was not against the state's rules.

Each year the state sells hundreds of parcels of land -- property it gets from the federal government or lots it already owns. Many are in remote areas. Some, however, are in more developed areas like the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Fairbanks, Tok, Glenallen and on the Kenai Peninsula.

In such sales, land is initially offered only to Alaska residents during an auction where people place sealed bids on the parcels they want.

Anything left over moves to the second phase of selling: the initial over the counter drawing. The drawing is open to anyone, regardless of where they live.

After the application period is over, the state randomly picks one person from among the applicants who want the same properties. Properties are automatically awarded if there is only one person applying.

Usually, people only request one or two properties. No one has ever before tried for as many as Carrillo, according to the state.

During the last Initial Over the Counter sale, the state had 150 parcels available. Carrillo applied for 85 of them and won 60 parcels.

The state said Carrillo was the only applicant on 42 of the parcels he won and was drawn from multiple candidates on another 18 pieces of land.

Carrillo said he became interested in buying a plot of land in Alaska while searching the state's website online.

He said he wasn't trying to push other people out of their chance of winning a piece of land. He told the state immediately to release the properties he did not want -- including road-accessible land in the Mat-Su, beachfront property on Gravina Island and remote land near Livengood, 79 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

Parcels Carrillo won that had only one other applicant were automatically awarded to the other person. The ones Carrillo won that had more than one other applicant were given to an alternate, whose name was drawn at the same time as Carrillo's. The state automatically draws at least one alternate when there are three or more people vying for the same piece of land.

Lots for which Carrillo was the only applicant are up for sale again to anyone -- as long as they are willing to pay the land's market value.

"If anybody is complaining, all they have to do is apply for those properties," Carrillo said.

Carrillo's prolific bidding -- and winning -- prompted citizen complaints to the Governor's Office, Alaska's U.S. senators and the DNR commissioner's office, Young said. The division even posted a lengthy explanation of what happened during the bidding process to address the complaints that Carrillo won so many parcels of land.

Young said the division is now looking at its policies for auctions, and over the counter drawings and sales, as a result of the furor over Carrillo's many bids.

"We were all surprised," Young said. "We have never had this happen before and whenever something new happens it's an opportunity to look at the process and see what's working and not working, and keep a fair and transparent process."

Young said any changes made to the process would be made available to the public when the next land sale begins, in the spring.

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