TOMS RIVER, NJ – Last month, Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill tried to sell a public parcel of land appraised by the township at $750,000 in a sketchy auction for just $250,000. The questionable auction was broken up by Toms River Councilman Daniel Rodrick during a contentious meeting at town hall. It turns out that Chaim Sabel, the man who won the auction was the neighbor of one of Hill’s largest and most controversial campaign donors, Scott Gartner.
It’s probably just a coincidence, but Gartner owned a townhome on 7 Harmony Drive. Sabel lives in the same complex on 30 Harmony Drive. In 2015, Gartner moved to Toms River. He got involved in local politics through Hill. Hill and Gartner made news after Gartner threatened to sue Toms River Township to change zoning for houses of worship. The township code requires 10 acres for churches and synagogues. Gartner wanted it changed to two acres. Eventually, Gartner teamed up with Hill and donated over $5,000 to Hill’s primary and general elections. Gartner eventually came to be one of Mo Hill’s largest campaign donors and closest friends. Gartner who said he never gave Hill a penny and never bribed the mayor, said the two would often sit in his back yard enjoying sweet tea together. Campaign election records show Gartner made several $2,6000 max contributions to Hill political campaigns.
In return, Hill drafted an ordinance that would lower the zoning for religious use to two acres. That effort by Hill was blocked and Hill later claimed it was not his idea, despite being the chairman of the land use committee that proposed the ordinance.
Now, Hill is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for the botched land sale that may have violated several laws, including alleged bid-rigging and political corruption.
Hill has been the face of overdevelopment in Toms River and during his 2019 election campaign, Hill took in thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from Lakewood area realtors, developers, engineers construction companies, architects and professionals. Many of those donors own developable land in Toms River and have close ties with Mo Hill’s downtown development plan.
While it is most likely just a freak coincidence that the man who won an extremely low bid in a questionable public auction happened to be the neighbor Mo Hill’s closest political and financial contributor, things aren’t looking good for Hill. The sale has caught the attention of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office which is investigating the sale. A spokeperson from the Attorney General’s Office would not comment on the details of the investigation when asked recently.
We reached out to Gartner and he refused to comment on this story.