Charges against appraiser dropped

Testimony that he knew of fraud in real estate deals called insufficient

Acquittal in related case

March 22, 2001|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors have dropped a 17-count mail and wire fraud indictment against a Middle River real estate appraiser who was scheduled to go on trial next week.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis this month that "it is not in the best interests of justice to continue the prosecution" of Guy Shaneybrook, who was acquitted in a related case by another federal judge last month.

Shaneybrook's co-defendants, Angus Finney and Thomas "Tucker" Mayer, each pleaded guilty to a single fraud count in January and testified against him in the earlier trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said he decided to drop the case because the testimony of Mayer and Finney would have been essentially the same as it was in the earlier trial, even though different property transactions were involved.

In that case, he noted, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin acquitted Shaneybrook because the "testimony of Finney and Mayer did not explicitly link him to knowing that his appraisals were part of the scheme" to defraud lenders.

"I'm very pleased ... and Mr. Shaneybrook is very pleased," said Richard D. Bennett, the appraiser's lawyer.

The case was dismissed as the state Real Estate Appraiser Commission affirmed its decision to revoke the license of another appraiser, G. Samson Ugorji, who is scheduled to begin a 33-month federal prison term next month for his role in a major property-flipping scheme.

Evidence at Ugorji's trial focused on 42 appraisals he did for Robert Beeman, who flipped more than 100 Baltimore houses over a four-year period. Prosecutors say that altogether he made more than 300 inflated appraisals that prompted lenders to finance property flips.

The commission voted in July to revoke Ugorji's license and fine him $5,000. He appealed, and a hearing was held last month before the commission. Last week, the commission issued an order upholding its decision.

Shaneybrook and another appraiser, Narade Pramuan, were acquitted by Smalkin last month before their case went to the jury. Smalkin said there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find that the appraisers knew they were involved in a fraud scheme.

The central figure in that scheme, Carl Schulz, pleaded guilty before the trial and testified against the appraisers and a fourth defendant, Marcia McNeil, who had worked with Schulz. The jury convicted McNeil of five fraud counts and acquitted her of two. She is to be sentenced April 25.

In acquitting Shaneybrook and Pramuan, Smalkin said the prosecution of appraisers troubled him.

"Making a practice of indicting appraisers could have a very serious effect on the exercise of professional judgment if they make a call that somebody in retrospect can come back and nitpick. ... There is not an appraiser in the world that you can't nitpick," Smalkin said.

If an appraiser's judgment is "off" in selecting comparable property sales to justify his valuation, "I don't necessarily see this as an issue of criminal intent," Smalkin said.

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