A former Bureau of Indian Affairs land appraiser who estimated the value of a ranch at $68 an acre says he put the price at $50 per acre after gaining training in assessing land.
Nevertheless, the Navajo Tribe paid the $68-per-acre price - a total of $33.4 million for the sprawling Big Boquillas Ranch in northern Arizona.Dean Moss testified in Navajo District Court in Window Rock that he had no experience in real-estate appraisal when he estimated the value of the ranch in May 1987.
Moss and Wilbert Pioche, a former tribal official, testified Thursday during the trial of suspended Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, who faces single counts of bribery, fraud, conspiracy and ethics violations in the July 1987 ranch transaction. A third party bought the Big Boquillas for $26.25 million only hours before it became Navajo property, and prosecutors contend that MacDonald conspired with the middlemen to increase the price and split the profit.
His son and co-defendant, Peter "Rocky" MacDonald Jr., is charged with a single conspiracy count.
Moss said he went to work for the BIA in September 1986 as a real-estate appraiser but did not get training in that field until June 1987.
In May 1987, Moss said, he was asked by Edison Woods, an appraiser with the Navajo Land Administration, to do a follow-up and critique of an appraisal done by Woods of the ranch.
After spending four to five days driving over the property with Woods, Moss said he became concerned about the reliability of water in the area, the status of ownership of the minerals, and questioned whether Woods' appraisal offered the fair market value of the land based on other ranches of comparable size.
Moss said he estimated the value of the Big Boquillas Ranch to be $68 to $70 per acre. After receiving appraisal training, he said, he lowered the appraisal to $50 an acre.
Moss said he was aware by then that Tenneco West, the owner of the ranch, had offered it for sale for $25 million, or about $50 an acre.
Moss said he informed MacDonald in a hand-delivered letter of the reduced appraisal.
Pioche, former deputy director of Navajo administration and finance, testified that MacDonald demanded the release of a $500,000 down payment on the purchase, even though Pioche questioned the transaction.
He said MacDonald called him on May 22, 1987, and questioned the delay in the release of the down-payment check.
"I felt like if I didn't get a check out that day, me and the people below me, were out of a job," testified Pioche.
Pioche said he was left in charge of the finance and administration department while his superiors were away on May 22.
He said he contacted other finance personnel and informed them: "I'm going to tell you what the chairman told me. Don't bother coming back if you don't get a check out."
Pioche testified there was no financing plan or signed purchase agreement for the ranch on May 22. Although a Navajo Nation Council resolution authorized the transfer of money into an account for the ranch, there was no authorization to produce or deposit a check, he said.
There "was some concern" whether there was sufficient cash in the tribe's account to cover the down payment, Pioche said.