But, this is where the first plot twist arose. On June 1, 2007, The Colorado Board of Real Estate Commissioners filed a complaint with the State’s Office of Administrative Courts regarding Julie O’Gorman.
In addition to wanting to take advantage of the favorable conditions (the improved federal and state tax treatment mentioned in Posts #4 and #10), Stan and I were just tired. We had 23 partners, and dealing with all the tax questions that accompanied each transaction was nearly a full-time job, and Stan and I were both otherwise occupied. It made us incredibly busy, and we worked really hard on a lot of boring tax information, memos, research, and spreadsheets. It was natural that we wanted to get it over with as soon as possible!
Plot Twist: The Public’s Safety or Welfare
But, this is where the first plot twist arose. On June 1, 2007, The Colorado Board of Real Estate Commissioners filed a complaint with the State’s Office of Administrative Courts regarding Julie O’Gorman. Julie had been our real estate appraiser, and ran a well-reputed real estate appraisal company in Loveland. The shocking thing about the complaint was that the Division of Real Estate issued an emergency summary suspension of Julie’s license. Summary suspensions are rare and used only where the public’s safety or welfare requires immediate action.
From comments submitted to the Greeley Tribune when it broke the story, we learned that O’Gorman had a long and distinguished career in real estate. It appeared from reader comments that she was well-known and respected, she had been a certified appraiser for 12 years, she was on the Larimer County Board of Appeals, and was a member of both the Loveland and Fort Collins Chambers of Commerce. She had offices in Loveland, Westminster, Cheyenne, Pueblo and Montrose. Needless to say, this action came as quite a shock to Julie and to her community because there was no hearing prior to the suspension.
The hearing was set for August and we learned that Julie was not allowed to work or even visit her own offices during her suspension – almost three months! All of this seemed unnecessarily harsh.
The public’s reaction was mostly supportive of Julie, and became increasingly negative about Division of Real Estate Director, Erin Toll. Over the next months and years, Toll possibly became one of the most-hated public officials in the history of Colorado, but it took four years before Toll’s “take-no prisoners character trait” would “prove to be her undoing.” (From The Denver Post, “The rise (and fall) of Erin Toll, Colorado regulator with a tough reputation.”)
Todd contacted us about two weeks after this startling development to let us know about it. We were especially stunned because one of our appraisals (Tract #10) was mentioned in the complaint, and yet no one had ever contacted us. No one had questioned us about anything related to the appraisals, so we were completely blindsided. The appraisals seemed incredibly thorough to us, and we had, in fact, been utterly shocked at the low valuations – remember, we were going to develop this land, meaning selling many, many lots in each parcel. So, when we got the appraisals we had thought they were very low, but it didn’t matter because they passed the threshold for the valuation for the conservation easements; therefore, the fact that Julie as being investigated for artificially inflating the appraisals was jaw-dropping to us.
Additionally, we were puzzled about how one of our appraisals had gotten into the hands of DORA. After all, it was really confidential material. As far as we knew we were the only ones who had a copy, plus Julie, plus our partner who was assigned to Tract #10, and Todd. It was a mystery for a while, but after some investigation, Todd discovered the root of the problem. Todd had talked to Kevin Shea, who apparently posed as someone interested in brokering the sale of tax credits. Todd gave him our appraisal, and Kevin turned around and gave it to Mark Weston (why would he do that?), who turned around and gave it to Erin Toll (why would he do that?). (These facts were later verified at Julie’s hearing.)
The answer to “why would he do that?” has never been clear – the actions of Shea and Weston just seem petty and mean-spirited – but as the story unfolds, you’ll see a pattern: it appeared that the “Good Old Boys” who had a cozy, insular club of appraisers and land trusts in the conservation arena did not like the new upstarts like Todd and Julie. If you happened to read the article I mentioned in Blog #1 (scroll to bottom), which describes the lawsuit that landowners recently filed against the State of Colorado, you’ll see that we are not the only ones appalled by Mark Weston’s actions – the suit names him “individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Colorado Conservation Easement Commission,” which was not his capacity when he handed the appraisal over to Erin Toll – there was no “oversight” commission at that time. As far as I know, he was just an appraiser at the time.
Our Response to Julie
Of his own accord, Stan wrote a confidential rebuttal to the complaint, and sent it to Todd, merely as an exercise. Julie was represented by another well-known attorney in Denver, with whom we had no relationship. Julie’s hearing was scheduled for August, and we were curious about it, but felt it would blow over and she would be vindicated. While we are exceedingly irritated about Erin Toll’s actions, we were utterly confident that all would go well for Julie, they would straighten it all out, and that would be the end of it. Little did we know what a huge storm would erupt from this tiny cloud. © Sharon Cairns Mann