MIAMI — Millionaire industrialist Victor Posner testified Thursday at his tax evasion trial, denying charges that he overvalued land that he donated to a college by more than $1 million.
Posner, 67, of Miami Beach caused a stir in the crowded federal courtroom as he rose from the defense table and walked to the stand. "I did not know I would be sitting here charged with being a criminal because I gave a gift of land to the college," he testified.
The federal government has charged that Posner, ranked by some publications as the highest-paid executive in the nation, overvalued land he donated to Miami Christian College by $1.2 million in order to pay less income tax.
He is charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of evasion and five of making false statements. If convicted on all charges, Posner could be sentenced up to 50 years in prison.
Posner said he based his estimates on those by real estate broker William Scharrer and another appraiser he did not identify.
"Scharrer said to me, 'Don't worry about the appraisal. I'm an appraiser,' " Posner said. He said he felt Scharrer was qualified to appraise the property.
Scharrer, president of Oscar E. Dooly Associates, has already been convicted of conspiring to aid Posner in evading taxes. He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison but remains free on bond pending appeal.
Posner said he gave 16 acres of land in 1975 that he valued at $125,000 an acre and six acres in 1978 that he valued at $175,000 an acre.
Scharrer "told me what wonderful work the college had done and told me it would be the greatest thing if they could get the property," Posner testified.
Defense attorney Edward Bennett Williams has said Posner appraised the land for its "best use," meaning it was appraised for possible commercial development.
But in testimony Posner said, "There was no reason for anyone to build anything there but a college."
Federal prosecutors contend that the land should have been appraised for its actual value, which they said was far less than Posner's estimate on his tax returns.
Posner heads or controls about 40 companies, among them Sharon Steel, Evans Products and the Royal Crown Cos. In 1985, he earned $12.7 million in executive payments from the companies, according to Business Week magazine.