Landowner accuses Muskego of conspiracy
For 13 years, Muskego city officials conspired to prevent a landowner from building on an 11-acre parcel considered key to the development of the downtown, according to a federal lawsuit and several former aldermen.
The alleged conspiracy by city officials to prevent the landowner from developing the property followed Muskego’s failure to buy and develop the former Parkland Mall, a strip shopping center on Janesville Road. Parkland Venture LLC, a partnership led by Arthur D. Dyer, instead bought the mall in 1997 for $850,000 ó $50,000 more than the city bid.
After losing the bid for the property, the city took actions that were tantamount to taking Dyer’s property, according to the lawsuit. Before filing the lawsuit, which is pending in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Dyer filed a $120 million claim against the city.
The lawsuit claims Dyer’s civil and constitutional rights were violated by a city conspiracy, and that he lost millions of dollars as a result.
Since buying the mall, Dyer’s plans for the property included developing it as a public library and retail space; razing the mall for construction of a big-box home improvement store; and building a mixed-use project with condominiums and commercial uses, according to the lawsuit.
Among the efforts to thwart the developments, according to the lawsuit, city officials contacted Dyer’s lender saying the property was worth far less than he claimed and contacted potential development partners calling into question Dyer’s ability to complete the projects.
The suit also claims the city reneged on promises for public tax incremental financing money that would aid development, tried to acquire the property through condemnation, threatened to build a 6-foot-tall brick wall blocking Dyer’s access to Janesville Road and ordered a building inspector to write up citations for Dyer’s property.
Four former aldermen, some who say they were initially part of the alleged conspiracy to thwart developments, have filed affidavits in support of Dyer’s claims.
City officials denied the thrust of Dyer’s claims in their legal response. Mayor John Johnson, who is a named defendant in the suit, said he could not comment on the lawsuit but insisted the city would not stand in the way of a developer.
“We would welcome him with open arms,” Johnson said, “but he has to come to the Plan Commission with a plan.”
Dyer scoffed at Johnson’s remarks and referred to a five-page timeline listing his attempts to develop the property through the city’s Community Development Authority.
In an affidavit contained in the court file, real estate broker Robert Herzog swore he had five groups of qualified buyers walk away from deals to buy the property from Dyer or work with Dyer on a project.
“In my professional opinion and from my personal experience in marketing this specific property, I can state unequivocally that if not for the negative influence and interference of the city of Muskego officials, my buyers were willing to write offers to purchase for this property which Mr. Dyer confirmed were on terms and conditions that Parkland Venture LLC was willing to accept,” according to Herzog’s affidavit.
Some former aldermen, according to the lawsuit, said they were duped by former Mayor David DeAngelis and former Common Council President Domonic D’Acquisto into joining the conspiracy against Dyer and his company.
“I was constantly told lies, slander and false rumors about Mr. Dyer personally and how Parkland Venture LLC came to acquire the mall,” said former Council President Nancy Salentine in a sworn statement. “I held personal animosity against Mr. Dyer as a result of these statements but I later determined these statements were false.”
Neither DeAngelis, now the Elm Grove village manager, nor D’Acquisto could be reached for comment before deadline. A change in the state constitution preventing convicted felons from holding public office kept D’Acquisto from seeking re-election in 1998. A former Milwaukee police officer, D’Acquisto was convicted in 1981 of aggravated battery and misconduct in public office after a suspect was beaten.
Another former alderman, Donald Piontek, said in an affidavit he believed what he was told about Dyer until he met with the landowner on Jan. 21, 1999.
“Up until that time, I actively went along with and participated in a conspiracy against them as part of my and the other City of Muskego Common Council members’ efforts to thwart the development of the former Parkland Mall property and its ability to access TIF monies,” according to Piontek’s affidavit.
Piontek also swore that during closed door sessions, DeAngelis and D’Acquisto discussed taking the property from Dyer by the use of eminent domain even though they had no legitimate public purpose for the acquisition.
Former Alderwoman Donna Woodard, former Alderman David Sanders and former Mayor Charles Damaske also supported Dyer in sworn statements.
Mayor Johnson dismissed allegations Dyer was treated differently from others. Johnson noted Walmart and General Electric Co. both built in the city recently.
“(Dyer) had the opportunity to develop his property,” Johnson said. “He still has the opportunity to develop it.”