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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

L.I. Village to Stand Trial for Pushing Out Latinos

(CN) - A predominantly white Long Island village must face a trial over whether it tried to rid its Little Latin America enclave of Latinos, a federal judge ruled.

In a 2007 amended complaint, 10 Latino plaintiffs claimed Farmingdale, N.Y., pushed developers to raze the town's 54-unit apartment building for "'very low income' households." The plaintiffs said they and other Latinos made up nearly half of the building's residents.

Along with Farmingdale, the plaintiffs sued Secatogue Realty, which ran the building, Secatogue owner John Tosini and agent Michelle Tosini.

The Secatogue Avenue Redevelopment Project (SARP) proposed by Farmingdale in 1999 involved seizing the building through eminent domain, razing it and developing five new buildings in the surrounding 250,000 square feet.

But the plaintiffs say that the plan stalled until rising anti-Latino sentiment caused the town to elect a candidate who saw it to fruition.

Between 2002 and 2004, Farmingdale residents allegedly made racist comments at Village Board of Trustees meetings and on the organization's Internet message board.

One such online post, as submitted into evidence by the plaintiffs, read: "Everyone knows that white people from this country don[']t cause crimes ... It[']s immigrants and the so called minorities ... Before you know it our town is going to be as dark as Amityville or the city and then where will you go."

A Latina who attended one of the meetings said she was told, "You people should get your tubes tied."

Farmingdale, described in 2000 census statistics as 87 percent white, started posting "no stopping or standing" signs where day laborers were known to congregate around this time, the plaintiffs claimed.

(The plaintiffs - Isidoro Rivera, Jose Alvarado, Juan Bustillo, Noberto Alvarez, Elsa Mejia Villalobo, Brian Fredericks, Eli Chavez, Marta Villatoro and Ana Maria Mora Gomez - say they are not day laborers themselves.)

In March 2004, voters unseated the village's longstanding mayor, Joseph Trudden, in favor of the Farmingdale Family Party candidate George Graf, whom the plaintiffs say stepped up enforcement of no-standing ordinances and furtively implemented SARP.

Although Farmingdale denied ever enacting the project, Secatogue Realty sold the plaintiffs' building that December to Fairfield Acquisition and agreed to buy out the remaining tenants. The remaining nine tenants in the building by the July 2006 closing were eventually evicted.

Fairfield Acquisition reached a settlement of an undisclosed amount with the plaintiffs, court documents state.

The remaining defendants subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the charges.

On March 30, Judge Hurley cleared Secatogue and its owners of wrongdoing, but decided in a separate decision that the claims against Farmingdale can go to trial.

Contrary to Farmingdale's assertions that it played no part in the sale of the building, Mayor Graf repeatedly bragged about pushing the transaction in the local newspaper, Hurley wrote in one of his orders.

"Five months after Mayor Graf was elected, he published a 'From Your Mayor' opinion piece in the Farmingdale Observer, which stated, in part: 'We have defined an area of the Village for possible redevelopment and have ... put this plan on the 'front burner,'" the decision states. "Much of the property [near] Secatogue Avenue ... is within the 'blighted' area.'"The plaintiffs and Farmingdale will submit joint a proposed amended pretrial order in early May.

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