TOMS RIVER, NJ – In the real estate investment game, the idea is to buy low and sell high. If you’re Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill, you buy high and sell low. That’s because you have political favors to buy using taxpayer funds to acquire real estate from friends at high prices and sell real estate to other friends at low prices.
This summer, Hill was caught trying to sell a nearly $1,000,000 township-owned property to his political ally on the Lakewood Township Planning Board. That deal fell through once people in the community started nosing around, trying to figure out why a property assessed for $750,000 by the township was being sold to a political ally in Lakewood for just $250,000. When Hill got caught with his hand in the taxpayer cookie jar, he withdrew his previous commitment to sell the Hinds Road parcel.
This week, The Mo Hill Realty company had another lucrative land deal go south. Hill wanted to sell two essentially worthless pieces of township-owned land to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders to raise approximately $1,000,000 so he and another political ally, Councilwoman Maria Maruca can buy the
With a 6% tax increase being realized by taxpayers across Toms River, Mayor Maurice Hill had yet another great plan to raise money for an $8.3 million purchase of the former Joey Harrison’s Surf Club property in Ortley Beach from a friend Joey Barcellona. A few years ago Barcellona hired a land expert and a lawyer to prove that his land is worth just $1.9 million. Short on cash, Hill and Maruca began working on real estate shell games to take advantage of the offer by Barcellona neither elected official could refuse.
New Jersey has agreed to kick in $6.6 million in Blue Acres funding for the purchase, leaving Mo and Maria about $2 million short on the purchase. At $6.6 million, Barcellona’s asking price is still nearly $4 million over the assessed value he fought for against the township.
Last week, Mo Hill’s latest shell game to have the county purchase land through their open space fund, a $60,000,000 slush fund used to purchase land, usually from politically connected landowners who can’t otherwise sell their land, fell through. The freeholders, realizing the financial pitfalls in the purchase and potential illegality of the deal proposed by Hill and Maruca rejected Freeholder Virginia Haines’ plan to amend the law to enable the county to purchase land from Toms River.
That’s not happening either, but Hill and Maruca are determined to purchase the Surf Club property. Barcellona said he has offered to sell the land to a condominium developer. After 8 years of sitting vacant since Superstorm Sandy, nothing has materialized and the chance of a developer buying land they may not be able to do develop because of the local, county, and state environmental concerns seem very unlikely.
Instead of calling Barcellona’s bluff and telling their friend to take the $6.6 million from the state Blue Acres funding, which any responsible elected official not on the take would do, Hill and Maruca are determined to get Barcellona his asking price, a deal brokered by powerful Ocean County Republican attorney Larry Bathgate. Bathgate if you remember was once accused of being the reason the First National Bank of Toms River completely tanked after defaulting on a $19 million loan he used to pay for real estate around the Jersey Shore. Officials involved in the negotiations with Ocean County said Bathgate will earn a percentage on the deal brokered by Hill and Maruca, but that has not been able to be officially confirmed as you would guess, they don’t like to talk to the media about their backroom deals.
Now, Hill and Maruca are going back to the drawing board, hoping to use the township’s own open space fund to cover the difference between Barcellona’s asking price and the state’s Blue Acres offer. Just another day at the office of the Maurice Hill Real Estate Agency.