Down to the Metal

A mentally ill man who was fleeced by local car dealers also seems to have been let down by public agencies.

Even in his soiled sweatpants and distressed mental state, Richard Grey was a beautiful sight to a car salesman. A little psychosis can go a long way toward a blowout sale. In July, less than a week before he would be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, the disheveled, sometimes-babbling Grey was welcomed at the Huling Bros. dealership in West Seattle after announcing he was a cash-rich man. A salesman would later describe him as "nasty" appearing and mentally "out there"—but such a valued customer that the salesman drove Grey home to get his money.

According to police and prosecutors, Grey sometimes walked around with rolls of bills bulging from his pockets and boasted of a big cache in his apartment. Indeed, he returned to the dealership that day with $29,000 in a plastic shopping bag and motored away in a glossy black 2006 GMC Canyon pickup that another salesman would allegedly swindle away from him five weeks later. In between the sale and swindle, two other Huling salesmen allegedly broke into Grey's apartment, filching the last of his stash, at least $70,000 in big bills, from a dresser. It was one of just a few pieces of furniture and a mattress in Grey's sad one-bedroom, $99-a-month rent-subsidized unit, where the burglars had to step around human waste on a urine-soaked carpet.

As King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng now alleges, it was a $130,000 conspiracy involving fraud, theft, burglary, and money laundering that left the vulnerable Grey penniless. Almost a dozen Huling sales personnel either directly participated or knew about it but never spoke up; the case unraveled only because of an informant's tip to a Washington State Patrol investigator, authorities say. The frenzy to exploit Grey reached such a boiling point that, says Seattle police Detective Caryn Lee, two or three separate pairs of salesmen heist teams "ran into each other or almost tripped on each other" trying to loot Grey's apartment at the same time.

Prosecutors have charged former Huling employees Adrian G. Dillard, 32, and Ted E. Coxwell, 39, with the burglary, and former salesman Paul Rimbey, 39, with theft for allegedly conning the already burglarized, broke, and confined Grey into handing over the pickup for nothing in return. Dillard and Rimbey have pleaded not guilty, and Coxwell awaits arraignment; at least eight others have agreed to cooperate in the investigation. No one has been charged in connection with the original sales deal.

Steve Huling, who sold the dealership in December, last month held a news conference in which he presented a check for $99,000 to a prosecutor on behalf of Grey, who's now confined at Western State Hospital—$29,400 for the truck plus $70,000 to make good on the alleged burglary. The money is being held in an interest-bearing court money account.

But the story of Richard G. Grey is about more than bone-picking salesmen. Grey, 60, lived alone in injurious and filthy conditions in a Seattle Housing Authority building from which, during his hospital commitment, he was evicted. He was also supposed to have been under the watch of a caseworker at Highline Mental Health, whose facility is located less than a mile from Grey's Delridge apartment. Perhaps most startling, prosecutors say the mentally ill man was swindled behind the locked doors of Harborview Medical Center's psychiatric ward, a crime aided by an unwitting hospital notary. While Grey was allegedly being preyed upon by the salesmen, were the public agencies doing their jobs?

Harborview, for one, thinks so. It was in the hospital's locked mental unit that salesman Rimbey presented Grey with a number of documents to sign, three of which were notarized by a hospital staffer, enabling Rimbey to allegedly make off with the truck. Grey at that point had been involuntarily confined for one month, and his truck was in an impound lot. Rimbey had spoken with Grey on the phone, prosecutors say, and, at Grey's request, was allowed into the ward, where he assured Grey he'd retrieve the pickup for safekeeping.

Though Grey was ultimately confined for 117 days before he was involuntarily committed last fall to Western State for an indefinite period, the hospital felt he was competent to sign legal documents. Hospital spokesperson Susan Gregg-Hanson claims that no sales papers—"None"—were signed at the mental facility. "The only papers he signed here involved getting his truck out of an impound lot," she says. "He was very fearful of losing his truck, and he wanted the salesman to visit him. We urge patients to get on with their business when they can. The process allows him to have visitors, and we have a notary on call when needed. He was very rational and clear; he was his own [legal] guardian."

King County deputy prosecutor Tim Leary says that, in fact, two sales documents were negotiated and approved in the mental ward. One was a "30-Day Contract" in which Grey agreed to forfeit his $29,000 truck to Rimbey if Grey didn't reimburse the salesman $944 for impound costs. The second was a "Bill of Sale," which enabled Rimbey to take ownership of the truck. Rimbey, prosecutors allege, later transferred the title to himself without informing Grey. Leary says the hospital notary refused to sign one document—an "Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest"—which was later illegally notarized by a Huling employee.

If Harborview thinks the most egregious transactions were not facilitated at the county public hospital, run by the University of Washington, will officials be motivated to change policies? Gregg-Hanson says only that no new policy decisions have yet been made.

The Seattle Housing Authority also thinks it properly served its client. "I believe we took appropriate actions to assist Mr. Grey," says SHA spokesperson Virginia Felton. But she's unable to reveal those actions because of an administrative policy to protect the confidentiality of residents, she says. Generally, Felton notes, "SHA tries to be attentive to behavioral problems that are exhibited by our residents, especially when those problems might cause harm to the person involved or to their neighbors."

Officials don't know or aren't saying how long the ailing Grey lived in filth. Felton as well wouldn't say when SHA first became aware of Grey's squalid lifestyle at the 51-unit Lam Bow's Apartments, a collection of aging three-story SHA buildings where Grey, whose lease dates to 2002, lived with his money.

Public records do not show any SHA intervention until after a police officer, Bruce Wind, visited the apartment on July 27, investigating a report by the confused Grey that his truck had been stolen. (It was impounded, actually; Grey has a history of misplacing parked vehicles he's owned in the past, causing them to be towed, police say.) Wind immediately alerted mental health officials, and Grey was committed to Harborview that night. A week later, Aug. 4, SHA took its first apparent public action, posting an eviction notice on Grey's door.

A copy of the notice shows he was given three days to move out for "failing to adequately use the bath room facilities in your unit," rendering the apartment uninhabitable and creating a nuisance. SHA later filed a legal claim to evict him in King County Superior Court, then dropped the case in October after Grey, confined during the legal proceedings, never responded. (He briefly walked away from Western in December and was quickly picked up by police at the apartment complex, where he apparently assumed he still lived.)

Neither the door notice nor the lawsuit gives any indication of previous enforcement actions, or violations by Grey. One of his former neighbors said last week that while Grey "was recognizably crazy," talking to himself or yelling as he walked down the street, no one seemed aware of his hazardous living situation. "I don't know if anyone ever checked on him," the neighbor added.

Prosecutors and police say he had an assigned caseworker at nonprofit Highline Mental Health, whose West Seattle facility is a short walk from Grey's apartment. Was the caseworker aware of Grey's deterioration and dangerous living conditions? Highline CEO David Johnson says he simply can't answer. "We must comply with strict confidentiality laws that prohibit us from releasing even the information of whether or not someone is our client," he said.

Said SPD Detective Lee, "The victim was definitely in need of some help and some assistance." But from the available record, it appears the only assistance came from those who helped Grey out of his money.

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