Accused appraiser denies any wrongdoing

Ugorji rejects charge he inflated home values to defraud purchasers

January 12, 2000|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Trying to save his real estate appraiser license, G. Samson Ugorji insisted at a state hearing yesterday that he had done nothing wrong and that he was not part of a real estate flipping scheme that allegedly defrauded homeowners and lenders.

"If I had displayed any act of incompetence, negligence or fraud, it would have been picked up by the review appraisers," Ugorji told Administrative Law Judge Laurie I. Pritchard as a two-day hearing on charges filed by the State Commission of Real Estate Appraisers ended.

Ugorji is charged with producing misleading appraisals which inflated the value of four East Baltimore rowhouses in 1997. The houses were bought by Robert L. Beeman, a Wilmington, Del., speculator, for prices ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 and sold within months for $80,000 to $90,000, according to documents.

Beeman has bought and quickly resold at substantial markups scores of Baltimore houses in the last three years. Lawsuits claim that he performed cosmetic repairs before selling them at prices far above their value, using inflated appraisals to obtain financing for the buyers.

Ugorji says he performed 39 appraisals for Beeman.

`Tip of the iceberg'

At the opening of the hearing on Monday, Gaston J. Sigur, an assistant attorney general, charged that the case against Ugorji "represents the tip of the iceberg of a scam that defrauded low-income, first-time home purchasers as well as financial institutions.

"He contributed to the deception and defrauding by submitting appraisals that could not at the time nor can they today be justified or defended."

Sigur said he would seek revocation of Ugorji's license and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Pritchard gave attorneys until Feb. 15 to complete closing arguments in writing. After that, she will have 90 days to recommend a decision to the appraiser commission, which will either affirm or modify it.

Testifying in his own defense, Ugorji insisted that he had received only a $300 fee for each appraisal -- and nothing more. He said he had never been asked to produce a specific valuation, though he did know the contract sales prices when he was asked to appraise Beeman houses.

Saying he has done nearly 2,000 appraisals in the last 10 years, Ugorji testified, "This is the first time somebody has questioned my work."

Dozens file suits

Beeman, Ugorji and others involved in Beeman's deals have been sued by dozens of angry homebuyers and are under federal investigation by postal inspectors who attended the hearing. A federal prosecutor also was there on Monday.

Ugorji's lawyer sought to undermine the testimony of a state official who said Ugorji's appraisals were "misleading if not fraudulent." William T. Beach, chief of the valuation and appraisal division of the Maryland Department of General Services, said that Ugorji's selection of "comparable sales" of other houses to justify his valuation was faulty.

Ugorji's lawyer, J. Seymour Sureff, introduced numerous documents in an effort to show that his client's valuations were in line with prices in the area. He noted reviews of two Ugorji appraisals that lenders who financed the sales had commissioned from other appraisers. Those reviews affirmed Ugorji's valuations.

Beach stood his ground. "I believe these reviewers were misled" by Ugorji, he said.

An official of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation testified that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1997, each of the four houses involved in the case was worth only a fraction of Ugorji's valuation. Their "full cash value" ranged from $28,800 to $45,760, said Rick Sause, a field supervisor for the agency.

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