Rural NY Towns Sue to Halt High-Density Enclave

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A rural town and village in the Catskills fighting a high-density housing development brought federal fraud and racketeering claims against the builder in an effort to stanch the controversial project.
     The communities say they are “presently under siege in a hostile takeover” led by the project’s principals, whom they claim want control of the municipalities “for the benefit of the racketeering enterprise which they head.”
     The town of Mamakating and the village of Bloomingburg, located near Newburgh in rural Sullivan County, brought the federal complaint Tuesday in White Plains.
     The complaint describes the communities as “bucolic” and a gateway to the once-popular Borscht Belt, a 1950s and 1960s vacation destination in the Catskill Mountains for New York City Jews.
     But the town and village claim that about 10 years ago a campaign began to gain control of the communities “through highly sophisticated covert and overt schemes of fraud, bribery, intimidation, voter fraud and corruptly influencing public officials and governmental institutions,” all in violation of state law and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.
     Named as defendants are developer Shalom Lamm and his business partner, Kenneth Nakdimen; several business entities controlled by the men; and two former officials – Duane Roe, a onetime leader of the town, and Mark Berentsen, once mayor of the village.
     Unnamed “co-conspirators” as Doe defendants.
     The 158-page complaint contends that Lamm and Nakdimen had Roe set up a business entity, Sullivan Farms II, in 2004 as part of “a long-term, five-phase plan to disguise its presence before overtly laying siege to the governmental structures of Bloomingburg and Mamakating.”
     Roe, with pull as a local builder, Republican committeeman and former town leader, became the “shill” or “secret ‘front man'” to assemble vacant farmland for Lamm and Nakdimen, according to the complaint.
     Roe then proposed a “bogus development plan” to the town and village with 125 luxury “weekender” or second homes built around a golf course that would require that the village annex land from the town, the lawsuit alleges.
     In reality, Lamm and Nakdimen had designs on a 396-unit, high-density cluster housing project that would be marketed as full-time residences, according to the complaint. Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn were targeted as buyers in the proposed Villages of Chestnut Ridge.
     When the project broke ground in 2012, the lawsuit states, local residents began to realize that “public officials and governmental institutions had been bribed and corrupted” to abandon the second-home plan.
     With the real plan “outed,” the defendants “engaged in a direct campaign to complete the siege and overrun Bloomingburg by commandeering the electoral process,” the complaint contends.
     “They did so through public intimidation as well as brazen campaigns of voter fraud,” the town and village say.
     That’s where the co-conspirators came into play, according to the complaint, helping to “subvert the democratic process” by “falsely registering and then voting as purported ‘residents’ of Bloomingburg.”
     By stuffing the ballot box, the co-conspirators secured victories for “puppet regime candidates who had been hand-selected by Lamm and Nakdimen,” the town and village claim.
     The complaint says attempts were made to silence vocal opponents through individual lawsuits and “a national propaganda campaign to defame the town and the village by falsely accusing them of complicity in and indifference to the alleged anti-Semitism of their constituents.”
     A lawsuit in March accused the Sullivan County Board of Elections of trying to disenfranchise Hasidic Jews by challenging their residency and right to vote in local elections.
     The complaint says the communities are “on the brink of bankruptcy” from having to defend against “defendants’ incessant legal actions.” Meanwhile, the value of local real estate is “plunging” – which helps the defendants expand their racketeering enterprise by buying up more land, according to the complaint.
     The town and village want the annexation that helped create Chestnut Ridge declared invalid – a maneuver they tried once before in state court, but which was turned back by a mid-level appellate panel in early April.
     Mamakating and Bloomingburg also seek compensatory damages, treble damages under RICO, and attorney fees and costs.
     They are represented by David Holland of Manhattan and Philip Simpson of Robinson Brog Leiwand Greene Genovese & Gluck, also of Manhattan.
     Time Warner Cable News in the Hudson Valley reported the lawsuit was called a “PR stunt filled with recycled allegations” by a Lamm spokesman, who expressed confidence that the complaint would be dismissed.

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