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State echoes 10 Investigates' findings on appraiser, St. Pete city employee who deceived council

6:01 PM, Mar 14, 2014   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- More than two-and-a-half years after 10 Investigates exposed a city employee and real estate appraiser deceiving city council with higher-than-market value appraisals, the state is taking action.

The Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) found probable cause to discipline real estate appraiser Robert L. Henderson of Tampa on multiple counts of breaking the law.

In 2011, 10 Investigates showed how Henderson broke numerous laws in performing appraisals on properties the City was trying to purchase.

The DBPR's complaints (1) (2), recently made public, found Henderson made a series of errors & omissions. Henderson declined comment, instead referring 10 Investigates to his attorney. She, however, failed to return numerous messages.

Shortly after 10 Investigates' stories, then-mayor Bill Foster added additional protections to the city's property-acquisition procedures. However, the city employee involved in the faulty appraisals, Senior Real Estate Coordinator Mike Psarakis, was never disciplined.

Previous Coverage:
9/12/11 - St. Pete employee encourages false appraisal
9/15/11 - St. Pete council talks 10 Investigates findings
9/16/11 - St. Petersburg Real Estate Department misquotes federal guidelines
9/22/11 - St. Petersburg real estate dept. lies to city council
10/12/11 - St. Pete real estate employee implicated in new discoveries

10 Investigates first revealed in September 2011 that Psarakis used the appraisals to fast-track land buys past council. The city has been paying premiums in recent years to acquire land in the Dome Industrial Park to redevelop it and create jobs.

In one example, Psarakis commissioned an appraisal on a property that the property assessor valued at just $26,924. Real estate appraiser Robert Henderson used questionable tactics to appraise the property at $130,000 and another appraiser, Scott Seaman, was paid to review it. City council then unanimously approved purchase of the property for $145,000.

Henderson, who had been reprimanded by the state before, also performed other questionable appraisals for Psarakis before. In Feb. 2010, Henderson submitted conflicting appraisals for a vacant home at 801 24th St. South, with Psarakis choosing between his preferred reports. Council never knew the appraisals were inflated.

And contrary to what Psarakis told city council in 2011, Henderson was not the most competitive and prompt bidder for the questionable job. Local appraiser Linda Kavcsak had offered to do the job for the same price as Henderson, but faster. It appears Seaman never had to bid to land the review work.

When told of the state's findings and 10 Investigates' update, a spokesman for now-Mayor Rick Kriseman indicated there was no news to be reported from the city's real estate department.

But Psarakis, a licensed real estate appraiser himself, could also face discipline based on the complaints filed again Henderson. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice mandates appraisers "must not use or communicate a report that is known by the appraiser to be misleading or fraudulent (or) must not knowingly permit an employee or other person to communicate a misleading or fraudulent report."

Exact discipline for Henderson will depend on whether he chooses a formal hearing or informal hearing.

Find 10 Investigates reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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