The Real Deal New York

DOS rules to take away prominent appraisers’ licenses

MMJ accused of falsifying appraiser's signature in 14 valuations
By Adam Pincus | January 18, 2013 05:30PM

An administrative judge for the New York State Department of State has taken an unusual step and ruled to take away the licenses of the top executives at the Midtown-based appraisal firm Mitchell, Maxwell & Jackson, which at one time was one of the largest appraisal firms in the city.

The administrative law judge will pull the licenses of Steven Knobel, company president and Jeffrey Jackson, chairman, in a decision dated Dec. 27, effective Feb. 1. A certified residential real estate appraiser’s license is necessary to conduct business in New York State.

The state found that the company affixed the signature of appraiser Marianne Mueller, who was with the company from 2003 to 2010, rising in 2009 to executive vice president, on 14 appraisals that she did not have anything to do with. That practice is illegal. Furthermore, the decision said that without Mueller’s signature, the appraisals would not have been accepted by the client, who was not identified.

“[Knobel and Jackson] engaged in acts involving dishonesty and misrepresentation with the intent to substantially benefit themselves,” according to the decision.

The decision is subject to an appeal process. A DOS spokesperson did not immediately respond to confirm that the appeal had been filed. The DOS Division of Licensing Services issues licenses and regulates real estate brokerage and appraisal licenses, among others.

“My partner Steven and I are innocent of the charges and we have filed an appeal,” Jackson told The Real Deal. “This decision is unjustified and our licenses are still in effect.”

Mueller filed a civil suit May 2010 in New York State Supreme Court, naming Knobel, Jackson and the company as defendants, claiming they failed to pay her unpaid commissions.

But the case appears to have had some twists and turns. In November 2010, a DOS senior investigator wrote a letter to Mueller, saying that the agency declined to investigate the allegations of forged appraisals, documents reviewed by TRD show.

“Mueller has used the state and worked the system to reopen charges which were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated,” Knobel said, who noted his firm completed some 228,000 appraisals since launching the business in 1991.

The civil case is ongoing, her attorney, Adam Russ, a partner at the law firm Wasser & Russ, said. He declined to comment, but he said he expected it would go to trial in the next several months.