Tempers flared nearly out of control Tuesday at a meeting of the Toms River township council, with one councilman announcing that his colleagues were considering selling a parcel of publicly-owned land assessed at $750,000 to a Lakewood man for $247,000.
The council, ultimately, denied the $247,000 bid for the property, which was issued to a company, 1870 Hinds LLC, that was formed two days after an auction took place to sell the property. Shorebeat acquired state tax records that traced the LLC back to a post office box and further ordered records to find the registered agent behind the LLC, to no avail. But Councilman Daniel Rodrick displayed documents at the meeting that included the signature of a Lakewood planning board member, Chaim Sabel, on a post office box rental agreement, complete with his driver’s license and a backup form of identification.
What ensued was a vicious argument between Rodrick and Council President Maria Maruca after Rodrick accused Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill and fellow council members of committing “fraud.” Rodrick pointed to the fact that the company that was lined up to purchase the property did not technically exist when the auction occurred, and that resolutions considered the LLC as the “sole bidder” when there were actually two.
“It is either extreme incompetence or it’s criminal,” said Rodrick, pledging to bring information to law enforcement for an investigation. “I’m going to let the public decide.”
But officials dismissed Rodrick’s accusations as political in nature, fraught with technicalities.
“When the bids came back, the [first] bidder did not come up with the appropriate money, so we had to re-bid,” Maruca explained.
The next bidder in line did not wish to purchase the property, located in the Silverton section diagonally across from the Walgreens store on Hooper Avenue, for the amount bid, so negotiations were undertaken with Sabel, who had won the initial auction but did not come up with a deposit.
“Apparently he didn’t think the property was worth that and didn’t think it was worth it to buy it,” said Township Attorney Ken Fitzsimmons. “He was then asked if he would buy it at any price. He indicated he would buy it at $247,000.”
According to Ocean County tax records, the vacant lot is valued at $753,900.
While Rodrick claimed that a “political insider,” referring to Sabel, was in line to purchase a property below its assessed value, all of the other officials who spoke said the township never had any intention of selling the property for such a low price in the first place.
“It was anticipated that it would be denied and, in fact, it was denied this evening,” said Fitzsimmons.
Rodrick held that potential foul play was afoot, as the auctioneer for the sale, Max Spann, removed the listing from its website after he had called them and before a meeting took place. He also said the matter could have been removed from the meeting agenda.
As for why the meeting agenda included a resolution to approve the sale: “I thought the resolution should be offered to terminate the matter. It’s a very simple, parliamentary procedure to get the matter off the table and make a decision. You can spin it many, many ways, but that’s what actually happened,” Fitzsimmons said.
The property was one of several owned by the township slated to be auctioned off to private property owners in July 2019.