Plans to redevelop a prominent industrial property in Bergen-Lafayette have hit yet another snag thanks to the former owners filing a new lawsuit, which claims the current owners engaged in a conspiracy to deflate the parcel’s value before selling it to a straw buyer at a below-market price.
This isn’t the first time that drama surrounding the 2.2-acre property has spilled into the courtroom, as the land has been bogged down in various litigation for almost five years. The most recent complaint was filed in Hudson County Court on May 16 by three Brooklyn-based companies formerly associated with the land and plaintiffs Leib and Aron Puretz, the former owners.
The lawsuit says that the Puretz parties lost control of 125 Monitor Street after a Crown Heights man named Yosef Brikman, who issued them a loan on the property, commenced foreclosure proceedings against them. Per our previous reporting, the land was indeed transferred to Brikman in February last year.
According to the complaint, the Puretz parties entered into a settlement agreement where they would transfer the deed to Brikman so that he could sell the land “in a commercially reasonable manner, with the intention to maximize the sale price for the property.” Under the deal, all proceeds from the future sale of 125 Monitor in excess of $3.2 million were to allegedly be paid to the Puretz parties at the time of closing.
After Brikman took control of 125 Monitor, the lawsuit says he “did nothing to market the property and instead took actions to devalue [it] by orally stating to numerous persons that he was looking to sell for just enough to cover what he was owed, which he stated was in the $4 to $6 million range.” The case also claims that Brikman used the land as collateral for a personal loan he took out in July 2018.
That same month, Brikman allegedly permitted another Brooklyn-based investor named Solomon Strulovic to place a Declaration of Restrictions on the parcel stemming from the personal loan, which the case claims clouded the title, further devalued the property, and put Brikman in an urgent need to sell. The lawsuit alleges that “there were many secret meetings and discussions between Brikman and Strulovic regarding secretly selling the property to Strulovic in an inside deal for far below its value.”
The Puretz parties say that after they took Brikman to court last September for violating the settlement agreement, he engaged a company named Greiner-Maltz Real Estate to market and find a buyer for 125 Monitor. The lawsuit claims the property could have fetched as much as $27 million on the open market, but Brikman, Greiner-Maltz, and two other investors named Mayer and Yehuda Deutsch “secretly and in contravention with the terms of the Settlement Agreement…sold the property to a buyer for $5.75 million.”
The lawsuit says that when the Puretz parties learned of the sale, Brikman stonewalled them. They claim that Mayer Deutsch and an unnamed company are “straw parties who purchased the property in name only to assist in the cover-up of the sham transaction.”
Documents in the lawsuit claim the sale of 125 Monitor went down in April 2019, but Jersey Digs has not been able to independently confirm that. The plaintiffs accuse Brikman, Strulovic, the Deutsch parties, and Geiner Maltz Real Estate of violating the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act and engaging in civil conspiracy, also asking the court for a declaratory judgment ruling the sale null and void and returning ownership of the land to the Puretz parties.
Under current zoning, 180 apartments can be developed as of right at the 125 Monitor site. The neighborhood around the property has become one of the busiest construction zones in Jersey City, but the graffiti-covered warehouse remains standing in stark contrast to cranes and new development. No proceedings have been set for the latest round of litigation, which was filed in Hudson County’s Chancery Division.