License revocation ruled OK

The state was within its rights to revoke the professional license held by Augusta real estate appraiser Ashby R. Krouse III, the Court of Appeals has determined.

The Georgia Real Estate Appraiser Board revoked Mr. Krouse's license over his conduct in a land deal with the state that netted his wife, who is the daughter of former state Sen. Don Cheeks, a $240,850 profit.

The 2002 land deal, uncovered by The Augusta Chronicle, led to a criminal investigation in addition to an investigation by the state's professional disciplinary board for property appraisers.

Mr. Krouse was indicted in 2007 on charges of forgery and making false statements. The charges were reduced, however, and he pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court to two misdemeanor obstruction charges. He received a two-year probation sentence. As part of the sentence Mr. Krouse agreed not to engage in real estate or appraisal work for two years.

Mr. Krouse would have been able to return to appraising property in Georgia in September 2010 because a Superior Court judge ruled the Georgia Real Estate Appraisers Board wrongfully revoked his license.

The judge ruled that the state failed to provide expert testimony that explained what professional standards Mr. Krouse violated. The Court of Appeals' July 14 decision determined the state didn't need an expert in Mr. Krouse's case because even a layman could understand how his actions violated professional guidelines.

In August 2002, William Hatcher asked Mr. Krouse to help him appeal a recent tax assessment of a 98.24-acre site on the border of Richmond and Burke counties.

The property, a landlocked section of swampland, had been re-evaluated by the county from $15,000 to $117,888. Mr. Hatcher has testified that he told Mr. Krouse if the re-evaluation was correct or nearly so, he would consider donating the land to charity for tax purposes.

On Sept. 2, 2002, Mr. Krouse learned the Hale Foundation needed funding. He mentioned he had a client considering a donation of property that could be resold for about $20,000, according to the court opinion.

The next day Mr. Krouse provided Mr. Hatcher a report listing the property value at $113,000. Mr. Hatcher decided to donate the land to the Hale Foundation at Mr. Krouse's suggestion. Mr. Krouse then called his wife and arranged to buy the property for $25,000. The day after that, he filed documents with the county that indicated the property was worth $25,000, according to the court opinion.

About two years later, the state's Department of Transportation bought the property for $265,850 to use as wetlands.

"As stated above, the violations of multiple statutory and regulatory provisions were based upon the prior sanction of Krouse's broker's license, Krouse's preparation of a misleading appraisal report to facilitate the instant transaction, and Krouse's conduct reflecting his partiality in performing the appraisal assignment," the appeals court ruling states.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.