Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Figure in Wong
case serving time

A real estate appraiser,
disciplined in Hawaii, is in
a South Dakota prison

By Ian Y. Lind


A real estate appraiser cited in the state's criminal indictment of Bishop Estate trustee Richard S.H. "Dickie" Wong had his license revoked by state regulators in 1997 for professional misconduct, unethical practices, and failure to maintain a reputation for honesty.

State records show the appraiser, Patrick E. Keller, agreed to a five-year revocation after evidence in a disciplinary hearing showed he lied about his education and professional background, failed to file tax returns for several years and faced a $151,000 legal judgment resulting from fraud and misrepresentation.

Keller is currently serving a 14-month sentence in a federal prison in South Dakota after pleading guilty last year to unrelated charges of tax evasion and failure to pay more than $60,000 in delinquent child support.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Goya declined to comment yesterday on whether Keller will be called as a witness against Wong, but a series of Keller's appraisals were key elements of the indictment last week of Wong, his wife, Mari Stone Wong, and her brother, Jeffrey R. Stone.

The indictment alleges Wong received an illegal kickback of $115,800 when he was credited significantly more than the appraised value for a Makiki condominium unit as part of a complex exchange for a Kahala Avenue home.

According to the indictment, Keller appraised the condominium, along with the Kahala Avenue home involved in the exchange, and another Kahala home initially considered as part of the deal.

Keller went to Wong's Makiki apartment on March 10, 1996, where he met with Wong, discussed prospects for selling the apartment, and inspected the unit to prepare the appraisal, according to the indictment.

The state alleges Wong committed perjury when he told the grand jury in November that he never knew of Keller's visit.

Wong's statement to the grand jury allowed him "to disavow any knowledge that he knew he was receiving an improper bonus or commission," the indictment charged.

Wong's attorney, Eric Seitz, was surprised when told of Keller's past.

"This is amazing to me," said Seitz. "I'm amazed the state would ever use somebody like that as a witness in any proceeding."

Details of Keller's past are contained in published accounts, in federal and state court files, and in records of the Regulated Industries Complaints Office. These records show:

Bullet Keller resigned as the elected city clerk for Hawthorne, Calif., in 1992 after it was publicly disclosed he had been collecting his monthly salary of $600 for four years while actually living in Kona selling real estate and operating a hair salon, according to accounts published in the Los Angeles Times. Hawaii business registration records confirm that Keller was doing business in Kona during the period.

Bullet Keller testified in California Superior Court in Los Angeles in 1991 that he never earned degrees from Santa Monica Community College and California State University at Long Beach, which he routinely listed among his professional qualifications.

Also, Keller testified he had paid $100 for a master's degree in business administration from Pacific Northwest University. "However, I never attended that school, I've never been there. Don't know where it is," he said.

Federal prosecutors later described Pacific Northwest as a "diploma mill" which offered college degrees with "no studying, no classes, and no exams."

Bullet Keller attempted to conceal his income as an appraiser by directing payments to a company set up in the name of his wife, and at other times used false Social Security numbers to hide income from the IRS, according to federal charges that led to Keller's current imprisonment.

As part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Keller agreed to file federal tax returns for 1991, 1992, and 1993 within six months of his release from prison, and to pay the delinquent taxes, interest, and penalties.

Also, Keller agreed to contact state officials within 10 days of his release to arrange payment of $67,526.96 in restitution to the state Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Bullet A Honolulu arbitrator's decision in December 1995 ordered Keller to pay $150,000 to H.R. Hartz Inc., which had employed him as an appraiser for several years.

The company said Keller misrepresented his qualifications, failed to properly register his business in Hawaii, and then steered clients away from his employer into Keller's own private practice.

Then-Circuit Judge Daniel Heely later confirmed the award, and noted the arbitrator ruled in favor of Hartz "on the grounds of fraud, intentional misrepresentation, illegality, intentional interference with business relationships, unlawful seizure of Hartz's business opportunities, false light and breach of fiduciary duty."

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