Land transfer to former shelter board president used to pay off loan

September 24, 2018

Former fashion designer Bert Coughlin died in 2011 at age 100 in her home, a 13-room, Spanish-Pueblo Revival-style estate down a narrow lane off Canyon Road.

Described in her obituary as an animal lover, she left millions of dollars and her east-side estate, including a house and guesthouse, to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.

Within months of Coughlin’s death, part of the estate’s vacant land was transferred by the shelter to Roddey Burdine, Coughlin’s neighbor, who was then president of the shelter’s board of directors.

In exchange, Burdine forgave the $300,000 balance on a loan he had made to the shelter in 2007 at a time when, according to shelter officials, the nonprofit was short on cash.

Burdine had received about $267,000 in interest over the life of the loan, which originally was for $1.3 million but was paid down to about $737,000 within a year, officials said. The shelter had disclosed the loan on its publicly available federal tax returns.

The shelter never offered the vacant Coughlin land, about 6,000 square feet, for public sale before transferring it to Burdine. There also wasn’t an appraisal of the property to ensure the nonprofit was getting a fair deal by selling it to its board president for $300,000.

A real estate broker had prepared a market analysis of similar lots for sale on Santa Fe’s exclusive east side and indicated a value of $300,000 for the Coughlin land.

Jan Ballew, who was vice president of the shelter board at the time and later succeeded Burdine as president, said in a recent interview she believed Burdine had hired the real estate agent, who represented the shelter in the sale of the Coughlin estate.

The Coughlin estate eventually sold for $1.45 million. Prior to the piece being shaved off for Burdine and added to his property, the estate had been appraised at $2 million.

Two members of the shelter’s board of directors, who joined the board in 2017 and 2018, resigned in June in part because of concerns about the lot transfer to Burdine.

As a result of those concerns, the shelter board recently conducted an investigation of the property transfer, officials of the nonprofit said in a recent interview.

In the review, the board commissioned a retrospective appraisal of the land. That analysis set the value of the property at $375,000 when it was transferred to Burdine in January 2012. Another retrospective appraisal recently conducted for John Silver, an attorney for Burdine, set the market value of the land at $325,000 as of January 2012.

Silver and shelter officials said there was nothing improper about the land transfer.

“When you look at the facts behind it, it looks perfectly legal,” Silver said, adding Burdine had raised millions of dollars for the shelter and it wouldn’t be what it is today without him. He served as board president for 15 years before stepping down last year. The shelter’s animal behavior center is named for Burdine.

Burdine declined comment, referring questions to Silver and Ballew, who has been board president since November.

Jennifer Steketee, the shelter’s executive director, said the nonprofit would have had to pay real estate fees on the sale of the property if it had remained part of the Coughlin estate.

At the time of the land transfer, she said, the shelter’s auditors believed the $300,000 market analysis provided by the real estate broker was an acceptable valuation of the property.

“Everyone felt it was a fair transaction and a way to pay off a loan that we’d been having trouble paying off,” Steketee said.

The shelter’s board of directors approved the deal with Burdine, according to board minutes.

The deal required the shelter to pay all expenses incurred in obtaining a property lot line adjustment and survey needed for the transfer of the Coughlin land to Burdine. Steketee said the shelter’s costs were about $2,000.

Because Burdine couldn’t sign as both the buyer of the vacant land and as the shelter’s representative in the sale, Ballew, then the board vice president, inked the deal on behalf of the shelter.

A timely loan

The shelter’s publicly available financial records show Burdine loaned the shelter $1.3 million in a note dated Jan. 9, 2007.

It called for monthly interest payments at a rate of up to 8.975 percent. The note said the shelter was expecting major gifts in 2007 and that Burdine would be repaid with any large gifts. The shelter’s federal tax return for 2007 said the money from the note would be used for operating expenses and that the loan had a maturity date of Dec. 31, 2008.

In the first year of the loan, the shelter paid down the balance to $737,438, according to the nonprofit’s tax return for 2007. The balance was further reduced to $300,000 in 2011. Burdine signed a confirmation of note payment in February 2012 after receiving the Coughlin land.

Steketee said the shelter, at the time it borrowed the money from Burdine, was in a tight financial position because a $1.4 million construction loan had come due.

“It would have been hard for us to get a loan from anyone else,” she said.

The loan was meant to be short term, but there were delays in getting expected donations, Steketee said.

A generous benefactor

Officials readily acknowledge Burdine’s contributions to the shelter through the years, but the arc of the shelter’s finances was changed dramatically with the millions of dollars donated by Coughlin, whose talents as a designer drew many celebrity clients to Santa Fe.

Coughlin also had been an owner of the shopping center at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta, and was a fan of the nonprofit: In the years before her death, her foundation had donated increasing amounts to the shelter. She gave $1 million in 2010. Her bequest to the shelter, excluding her home, totaled about $13 million.

Her home, on about seven-tenths of an acre, included nearly 4,200 square feet of living area in a house and guesthouse, with a total of five bedrooms and five bathrooms, according to an appraisal.

Burdine’s estate is adjacent to the former Coughlin property to the west. Both properties are accessed by a gravel road off lower Canyon Road.

Burdine’s home was designed by noted architect John Gaw Meem and has been featured in Architectural Digest. Actress Greer Garson and oilman Buddy Fogelson got married and lived on the estate.

Burdine, originally from Miami, is a longtime Santa Fe resident. His family had a chain of department stores in Florida. His estate has been listed for sale for $3 million.

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