Emails detail conflicting appraisals

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The intentional removal, mutilation, destruction, alteration, falsification, or concealment of public records is a crime in Louisiana.

Emails reviewed by The Advocate show the Jindal administration told legislative staff last year that an unfavorable appraisal on state-owned land near the State Capitol was unavailable because it had been “discarded.”

State Sen. Gerald Long’s staff asked for the appraisal while preparing for a public hearing on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid to sell 17 lots bounded by North Fifth Street, State Capitol Drive, North Sixth Street and Lakeland Drive.

Jindal initially hoped to generate $5 million by selling the property that once was home to Huey P. Long’s alleged assassin and now holds a parking garage.

An appraisal dated Jan. 17, 2012, by Sharon D. Pruitt valued the property at $4.9 million. The appraisal was unusable by the summer because state law requires an appraisal to be obtained within six months before the sale of state-owned land. A subsequent appraisal, by Cook, Moore and Associates, valued the property at $2.8 million.

Cook, Moore and Associates noted several possible problems with the property, including the fact that the site might have to be filled to a developable grade, flooding problems and low demand for business space in the surrounding area.

Long’s staff asked for 12 copies of the second appraisal in mid-October.

“What should I do,” real estate agent Bernell Boudreaux, who works for the Division of Administration, messaged John Lavin and Clay Carter with the Office of State Lands less than an hour after receiving the Oct. 12 request.

Lavin, administrator for the Office of State Lands within the Division of Administration, wrote to Long’s staff the next day.

In an email, he wrote: “The State Land Office has discarded this second appraisal as it was ordered in error by this office ... We decided to ‘throw out’ the second appraisal and do not have it available for copying.”

The intentional removal, mutilation, destruction, alteration, falsification, or concealment of public records is a crime in Louisiana.

Michael DiResto, spokesman for the Division of Administration, said by email this week that the Jindal administration retained a copy of the second appraisal despite Lavin’s comments.

He did not offer an explanation for why Lavin said otherwise.

“We rejected the second appraisal, as it wasn’t conducted as thoroughly and it undervalued the property. We still have a copy,” DiResto said.

A Nov. 9 meeting on the property sale was canceled shortly after the Jindal administration released the second appraisal to the news media following weeks of delays.

Long, R-Winnfield, said Friday that he dropped the matter because the hearing on the sale was canceled. He said most members of the state Senate Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had grave concerns about whether the sale was in the state’s best interest.

He said he has yet to see the second appraisal.

“Someone has a copy of it. I’m absolutely convinced. But I thought, in light of the fact that the administration was no longer pursuing the sale of it, we simply did not pursue it beyond that,” Long said.

DiResto said the Jindal administration still is working on bringing the sale before legislators.

He said the administration recently updated its files by going back to Sharon D. Pruitt, the first appraiser. Pruitt looked at the property again and concluded it was worth $4.9 million as of Nov. 7.

“It’s not in the taxpayer interest to have government-owned property go underutilized, and we are working with legislators on our continuing goal to return it to productive use,” DiResto said by email.

Boudreaux, the division’s real estate agent, looked at the first and second appraisals, including the one the administration found objectionable, in October.

Boudreaux concluded that both “supported their estimated value of the subject property, based on an analysis of current data using an accepted method established within the industry.”

DiResto said Boudreaux simply looked at whether the appraisals were conducted appropriately.

“We rejected the second appraisal, as it wasn’t conducted as thoroughly and it undervalued the property. Specifically, it used only seven comparables while the first one used 20, and it discounted the property value by 40 percent for no justifiable reason,” DiResto said.