The wife of Municipal Court’s chief judge isn’t the only appraiser lacking a license in that field who is working at the pleasure of Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman – and earning tens of thousands of dollars doing so.
In fact, Ann Sens, wife of Judge Paul Sens, is a licensed real-estate broker and might be considered better qualified than the sausage maker, the public-relations consultant, the wife of a former Juvenile Court Judge or the political strategist who was sentenced in federal court on tax evasion charges. Most have contributed to Gusman’s political campaigns.
Those four, plus Sens and two licensed appraisers make up the corps Gusman turns to for appraisals, according to records released by his office in response to a public-records request by The Lens.
A loophole in state law allows sheriffs, as well as other government agencies, to hire unlicensed people to perform appraisals on properties that are to be auctioned off at sheriff’s sales, which in New Orleans are held weekly.
Licensed appraisers and the trade group that represents them understandably believe that those who have taken the necessary scores of hours of classes are better qualified, but Gusman is satisfied with the work of these seven people or companies.
As a real-estate broker, Sens would have at least a rudimentary exposure to appraisals, and she took a 15-hour online class on the basic standards and practices of the field.
It’s unclear what qualifications led Gusman to retain some of the others.
William A. Shultz is a Democratic Party insider and ex-convict who pleaded out on federal tax-evasion charges.
Schultz was sentenced to a year in federal prison for failing to report consulting income, and he was required to pay $183,000 in back taxes, according to published reports. Schultz earned $100,950 in appraisal fees for about 675 jobs through the Sheriff’s Office from the start of 2011 through March 9 of this year. He made a $5,000 contribution to Gusman on Feb. 1, 2010. Schultz didn’t return calls for comment.
Also on the appraiser payroll is Vance Vaucresson, of Vaucresson’s Sausage Company. Vaucresson performed about 530 appraisals since the start of 2011 earning $79,950 in appraisal fees. His last contribution to Gusman was in 2000, for $1,000. Vaucresson did not respond to messages left at two numbers.
Frank Stire also is on the list of appraisers. Stire is the principal at the Mandeville-based Montgomery Stire Partners. The marketing and public relations company has worked on behalf of the city of New Orleans on a number of issues, from enhancing its tourism profile to assisting with the Louisiana Family Assistance program. Stire earned $35,400 in appraiser’s fees. He donated $950 to Gusman in 2011. Stire did not respond to a phone message, and an email went unanswered.
Janice C. Taylor is an attorney and the wife of former Juvenile Court judge C. Hearn Taylor. Records show that she donated $2,350 to Gusman between April 2010 and April 2011. Taylor earned $84,750 for about 560 appraisals. The Lens was unable to contact Taylor, whose phone number is unlisted.
According to state records, H.J. Richardson and Peter Hamilton are the two licensed appraisers working for Gusman. They earned, respectively, $99,000 and $89,400 since the start of 2011. Both have real estate broker’s licenses, according to state records. Richardson contributed $4,100 to Gusman since late 2009. Neither Hamilton nor his company appears to have contributed to Gusman’s political efforts.
Richardson and Hamilton could not be reached for comment.
Anti-blight efforts and the burgeoning number of foreclosures have led to a significant increase in the number of properties auctioned by the sheriff– and in the need for publicly appointed appraisers. In some cases, up to three different appraisers could be chosen by the sheriff to provide the value on a single property.
The Lens reported earlier this week that Gusman hired Sens in early 2011, about the same time that Judge Sens hired Gusman’s wife as a counselor for his new drug-offender diversion program.
Just as Sens doesn’t have an appraiser’s license, Renee Gusman didn’t list drug counseling among her many specialties as a counselor, prior to getting work with Municipal Court. Neither position is paid with public money. Drug offenders pay Renee Gusman directly, and plaintiffs in foreclosures – typically banks – pay for appraisals by Sens and others.
Paul Sens said because the position didn’t involve public money, he didn’t have to follow public bid laws. He said Renee Gusman is “uniquely qualified” for the job. Gusman’s attorney said Ann Sens was hired on the strength of her qualifications, even though Sens’ cover letter to Gusman asks that the sheriff hire her for “any position you might have available.”
Renee Gusman earned nearly $30,000 since she began work at the end of February 2011. Ann Sens and her company have collected $92,000 since January 2011 for the work for the Sheriff’s Office. She’s conducted about 600 appraisals for the sheriff at $150 each.
Gusman and Sens are longtime friends and political allies – and no stranger to Schultz. Schultz’ 60th birthday party, on January 24, 2009, was held at the Sens’ Lakeview home.
The Sheriff provided a statement to our partners at FOX 8, defending his appraisers.
“All of the individuals who perform appraisals on behalf of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office are doing their jobs in a professional manner. This office is satisfied with their performance.”