NEWSDAY BY EDEN LAIKIN - March 5, 2009
A developer has filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against a dozen Freeport Village and former Nassau County officials, accusing them of conspiring to take a 4-acre parcel he owns by unlawful means. The suit claims that Freeport Mayor William Glacken and his brother-in-law, village attorney Harrison J. Edwards, plotted with former Nassau deputy treasurer Keith Sernick and others between 2000 and 2004 to take the property through an unlawful tax deed scheme. The defendants acquired the property, which the owner subsequently retrieved through court action. The complaint, filed by attorneys for the property owner, Huntington developer Gary Melius, seeks $8.5 million and alleges the defendants worked together to impede development of the property by making it hard for him to get approvals to build condos. Edwards, Glacken, and other then-village and county officials "purposely stalled and delayed development of the property . . . in the hopes of coming up with a plan to get the property away from Gary all together," according to the complaint filed under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The defendants have until March 24 to answer. Peter Meisels, the White Plains attorney for Edwards and Glacken, said they would not comment but would seek to have the suit dismissed. "I think it's clear the village was not a part of it," Meisels said. Calls to Sernick, of Connecticut, and his lawyer were not returned. Sernick, the attorney for the company accused of acquiring the property without Melius' knowledge, was also working as a tax lien consultant for the county at that time.
Melius, owner of the Oheka Castle hotel in Huntington, said he bought the Freeport property known as Water Works from Nassau County in 1989. The property supplied water to Brooklyn in the late 1800s and was vacant except for a crumbling building, he said, adding that he has invested $1.5 million in it. Melius said that because the property was not yet income producing, he would delay paying the taxes of about $300,000 a year until just before the county was due to sell a lien on the property for the unpaid taxes. Melius alleges that in 2003 and 2004, the defendants arranged for Edwards' longtime client, Just Assets, to purchase the Water Works tax liens as the first step in getting title to the property. His lawsuit also claims the defendants altered the tax lien form served on him, removing a section explaining that if the tax deadline were missed, Just Assets would begin to take title. Instead, the complaint said, the notice stated Just Assets would start foreclosure proceedings, leaving the impression that Melius had months to pay the taxes. Just Assets took possession of the property in July 2004. Melius said he learned of the sale when he found new locks on the fence and a new ownership sign. In January 2006, Melius won the property in court. But, he and his attorney, Ronald Rosenberg, of Garden City, say the defendants continued delaying and denying approvals. firstname.lastname@example.org