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Milligan issues stinging commentary as Norwalk/RDA ‘POKO’ lawsuit heats up

Norwalk real estate broker Jason Milligan, left; Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, right. The name-calling Milligan has referred to Coppola as “Super Mario” but has a new label: “Scorporation Counsel.”

NORWALK, Conn. — A months-long truce between Wall Street real estate mogul Jason Milligan and City officials has shattered.

At least, that’s how Milligan describes the situation – a truce that is now over.  The resultant bomb throwing came Friday, as he christened Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola with the moniker “Scorporation Counsel,” likening himself to the frog in a well-known parable, and Coppola to the scorpion that stings because “it’s his nature.” Coppola in a Wednesday statement said Milligan is attempting to sell a false narrative to the public.

Milligan claims the City’s legal department is calling a halt to the effort to save Garden Cinemas from demolition. His announcement took the form of an opinion piece that NancyOnNorwalk’s editorial board decided to hold pending comment from Coppola.

Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King, Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) and Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey want to “keep the dialogue going and build on our progress,” but the “venomous approach of the legal team” led by Coppola is preventing that, according to Milligan’s statement. City officials in a statement released Tuesday said its their responsibility to protect the public interest by pursuing the lawsuit, in a parallel track.

This controversy comes as Milligan resists a court order to reveal who his partner is in the purchase of ‘POKO’ properties. Coppola called this more game playing.

 

 

 

Legal bills for Milligan are at $250,000

Milligan is on the hot seat, having failed in his effort to dismiss the lawsuit filed against him by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. Attorney David Rubin on Sept. 26 told Judge Charles Lee that he’s billed Milligan $250,000 to date, in representing Milligan.

That news comes to you from Milligan, who on Oct. 3 provided NancyOnNorwalk with a transcript of that court conference. Lee had ruled that the 2004 Redevelopment Plan had indeed expired, Milligan said.

Let’s backtrack for new readers: Milligan and Richard Olson of POKO Partners were sued by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency because Olson sold Milligan properties that were slated to be used for Wall Street Place phases II and III, the famously stalled development commonly referred to as “POKO.” The Land Disposition Agreement required Olson to get Redevelopment Agency approval for a potential purchaser and Olson didn’t do so.

Milligan has claimed that the LDA is poorly written to the extent that it’s unenforceable, and violated many times by POKO Partners. He sought to have Lee dismiss the case against him on the grounds that the LDA was based on the 2004 Redevelopment Plan, which hadn’t been renewed in a timely manner, and then replaced this year with a redevelopment plan for a broader area.

Lee turned down that request, noting that Milligan bought the property before the 2004 Redevelopment Plan expired. The hearing is set to resume Oct. 24

 

 

‘Scorporation Counsel’

Milligan in his op-ed reminds everyone that he publicly apologized to Mayor Harry Rilling, Common Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) and Coppola in July.

(Illustration provided by Jason Milligan)

“Around the same time there was a serendipitous pause in the City’s lawsuit against me. The confluence of these 2 pauses provided a window for some earnest discussions to take place. Those discussions initially went very well,” he wrote.

Readers may recall that Milligan has been accused of misleading City officials in May 2018, promising that he wasn’t going to close on the POKO properties the next day, when he had already done so.

Milligan addresses this in his op-ed.

“I was expecting an amicable meeting of like-minded people who cared about Norwalk,” Milligan wrote. “Instead I had hopped into an ambush that included ‘Scorporation’ Counsel Coppola tapping his fingers on the lawsuit he’d already drafted and threatened to file against me in the event I closed on the POKO properties.  Is it any wonder, then, that I didn’t immediately disclose the purchase at that meeting?”

Coppola’s version of events came during March court testimony.

Milligan rescheduled the meeting several times, emails provided to NancyOnNorwalk have shown. The rescheduling was abrupt and City officials were given little notice.

The lawsuit was being drafted and, “We were in the back-conference room… going over a draft of the lawsuit so I happened to have it in front of me” when Milligan walked in late, “so we were already back there, waiting for him,” Coppola said.

Rubin asked if Coppola had physically showed Milligan the lawsuit that he was “threatening to file.”

“I don’t think I would describe it as threatening him but we informed him we would do that if they proceeded with the transaction without getting prior approval from the Redevelopment Agency,” Coppola replied.

Scorporation Counsel OP ED

 

 

‘Parallel tracks’

Progress has come to a halt after the Sept. 26 status conference, Milligan wrote:

“The City & Agency attorneys initially agreed for a court-appointed mediator to help resolve our issues amicably. But halfway across the river, so to speak, the City’s New Haven cabal of lawyers began to push back. They are now pressing hard on all possible aspects of the litigation. The spirit of cooperation is gone.  The scorpions have become predictably aggressive, stinging when they should be compromising for the sake of our collective interests—mine, City Hall’s, and all Norwalk citizens with a vested interest in the local economy and their tax bills.

“Several good people on the City side–Norwalk residents like Chief of Staff Laoise King, Council President Tom Livingston and Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey–want to keep the dialogue going and build on our progress. But that progress is impeded by the venomous approach of the legal team led by Mr. Coppola.  Remember, I’m just a frog.  I cannot afford to engage in productive civil dialogue with the ‘good’ people while the ‘bad’ ones—the scorpions—are trying to sting me in the courts via ongoing, baseless and costly litigation.

 

NancyOnNorwalk emailed King and Livingston to get a response. King asked Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan to reply, and this statement arrived:

“The Mayor, Council leadership, and City staff have been and continue to be willing to talk with Mr. Milligan. He owns multiple properties on Wall Street and is clearly a stakeholder in the neighborhood.

“The City is working toward comprehensive solutions for Wall Street and that involves input from neighborhood stakeholders. At the same time, the City cannot drop the litigation. The City has a responsibility to Norwalk taxpayers to try to recover a key piece property that was to be used for parking for Phase I of the Wall Street Place development. That property was improperly transferred to Mr. Milligan, which required the property owner to try and find alternative parking solutions, and is the only reason the Garden Cinema is a part of this now.

“These are parallel tracks. This is not personal or the case of a rogue employee. The City will continue discussions about Wall Street with Mr. Milligan – not through the press but at the negotiating table – but until there is a resolution on the transferred property, the City cannot drop the lawsuit.

“I’d also note that Mr. Milligan’s most recent allegations about the Corporation Counsel are inaccurate and unfair. At least a few times in the past, Mr. Milligan has apologized to the Corporation Counsel for his unfair and derogatory treatment of him, including at the last Planning Committee a few months ago where Mr. Milligan issued a public apology. While it may frustrate Mr. Milligan or the other defendants, the Corporation Counsel, and other members of the City Law Department, are simply doing their job in representing the City in the pending litigation.”

 

Scorpion?

“A city bankrupting itself on needless lawsuits cannot afford to retain a part-time scorpion indefinitely at 120k/year,” Milligan wrote. “Scorporation Counsel’s million dollar – to date – effort to sue the frog isn’t helping Wall Street or taxpayers.  How can a scorpion advance the interests of his employer, the City of Norwalk, when it’s in his nature to sue no matter the cost?”

He explained the scorpion fable:

“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river because the scorpion cannot swim.  The frog says, ‘you’re a scorpion.  You will sting me, and I will die.’  The scorpion replies, ‘but if I sting you, we both will die.’  The frog believes the scorpion’s argument makes sense—that the scorpion won’t act in a way that is counter to his own interests.  The scorpion climbs on the frog’s back, and the frog begins to swim across the river.  Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog.  The dying frog asks, ‘Scorpion, why did you sting me?’ The scorpion answers, ‘I’m a scorpion.  It’s in my nature.’”

 

Coppola on Wednesday released this statement:

“Mr. Milligan would like the public to believe a false narrative. He would like the public to believe that certain individuals are somehow out to get him by simply doing their jobs. But it is Mr. Milligan who has threatened that he would file civil rights claims against numerous City officials when he did not get special treatment. It is Mr. Milligan who has engaged in bullying tactics over the course of a year through numerous statements he has made to the press clearly intended to harass and embarrass public officials that might dare to stand up to him.  Mr. Milligan would like the public to believe that the Public Parties are wasting money simply because the litigation is expensive even though it is he who has deployed trial tactic after trial tactic to delay a ‘temporary’ injunction hearing that should have taken no more than a few days through endless testimony elicited by his own counsel over the course of weeks and the filing of constant motions which have been continuously denied by the Court. But, at the end of the day, the Public Parties have an obligation to stand up to Mr. Milligan, even if that means being the target of his wrath.”

 

‘Hundreds of people’ will know

Lee on Sept. 25 ordered Milligan to comply with the plaintiffs “discovery” requests – which date to November. The deadline for compliance was Monday. Milligan has not complied but has instead asked Lee to reconsider.

The plaintiffs are seeking details of questioned transactions, documents explaining the organizational structure of Milligan Real Estate and documents revealing its members. Also sought are the members of Komi Ventures, a Milligan entity that helped inspire the “unfair trade practices” accusation made in the lawsuit.

“While the Court has entered a confidentiality order relating to the identity of Komi’s other member, that confidentiality order is insufficient to protect the individual’s identity due to the nature of the parties to this action,” Rubin’s argument states, alleging that “hundreds of people” will have access to the information, even with the confidentiality order.

The “probative value” of the member’s identity does not justify revealing his or her identity, Rubin writes.

“Mr. Milligan will sign an affidavit to the effect that the individual does not reside in Norwalk, does not have, nor has he ever had, any contracts with the City of Norwalk, does not sit, nor has he ever sat, on any Norwalk Boards or Commissions, does not work, nor has he ever worked for a City Department or Agency, and has never done business with the City of Norwalk,” Rubin wrote. “There are no conflicts, real or imagined that would require the disclosure of the identity of this person.”

Callahan said Wednesday that he’s never seen a motion to reargue a discovery request “but it’s permissible.” He’ll file an objection Thursday and, “I don’t see much of merit to the motion, other than to delay the inevitable.”

“This is just the latest delay tactic from Mr. Milligan,” Coppola said. “He continues to put up hurdles which the Public Parties have to jump over to obtain complete compliance with discovery requests that were served close to a year ago. He has not complied with the Court’s recent order and has failed to provide full compliance with the discovery requests. Instead, Mr. Milligan continues to play games and is purposely delaying this process rather than providing the relevant information the Public Parties have requested.”

21 comments

Milly October 10, 2019 at 6:11 am

Everyday I go by the 3 businesses on Wall St that are gutted because of Milligan’s un- permitted demolition work – enough said.

Mike Mushak October 10, 2019 at 7:04 am

Lisa Brinton accepted her largest campaign contribution from developer Milligan, at the same time she criticized her opponent for accepting donations from developers.

It’s clear to most observers by now that Wall Street Place (POKO) would be nearly complete by now if it wasn’t for all the chaos created by Milligan.

Who is Milligan’s silent partner? Does Lisa Brinton know? What exactly is going on here?

We can only hope the courts will get to the bottom of this, so Wall Street can finally gets its key project underway.

Paul October 10, 2019 at 8:14 am

I don’t get it. What’s wrong with an out of court resolution,especially, with willing parties? VERY SIMPLE IT’S ALL ABOUT LEGAL FEES!!! Discovery in a civil suit is to find information on your opponent that can be manipulated to be used against him. The city’s action of requesting the court to enforce discovery requests during out of court discussions is disingenuous. So it’s no wonder Milligan is upset. I guess it’s like attacking the opponent during a peace truce.

The only winners in civil law suits are the lawyers.

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 8:38 am

There are so many errors in the reporting above. It must be hard when the City pays for a team of people to concoct a bunch of spin.

This leadership is wasting a fortune on unnecessary lawsuits and expensive settlements. It isn’t just this one. It was the library. It is 400 tax appeals. The Mosque…

Why doesn’t Mario explain how he was “protecting the city’s interests” when he let POKO bros. refinance the parking lot that the City donated. The city used to have the right to acquire the parking lot back, but Mario negotiated a deal where the city’s new price tag was $3 million plus “project costs”. The idiotic agreement is called the Loan Recognition Agreement or LRA. Mario negotiated that deal for the city. He also negotiated giving the Mosque $3 million.

The city summed up the ultimate relief they are seeking from this million dollar lawsuit against me to be to get me to quit claim the properties back to ILSR Owners, ie Olson. Olson doesn’t want the properties. It wouldn’t solve anything. It is so stupid because the LDA gives the City & Agency the exact same rights against me as it did Olson.

Harry, Mario and associates are awful at land planning and making deals. Citibank & McClutchy were having their way with this team. The McClutchy deal they were making in secret was even worse than the deal made with Ken Olson. They just keep given away more taxpayer money.

Keep in mind that the disaster called POKO was 3 phases. Phase I is the Tyvek Temple. Phase I was going to have the 1st automated parking vending machine. Bob Duff dumped $5 million into that idiotic idea. As bad as the vending machine idea was it originally would have parked enough cars to make Phase I self sufficient on parking. As the project ran out of money the some of parking was secretly & illegally transferred to phase II.

To claim that parking for phase I was initially supposed to go on phase II and now they need to tear down Garden Cinemas is false! The Tyvek Temple is a failure. Stop throwing good money after bad. Let it go!

Now as for the frivolous lawsuits against me. I agree to so much of what they asked. I said that I will leave the parking lot as status quo. That was not enough. They wanted to prevent me from leasing to businesses like Mr. Mango, which is in buildings that were phase III properties. Blocking the area from improving is unacceptable. That is what most of this lengthy expensive fight has been about.

You would think that the City geniuses would ask for or negotiate for an exit across my property. The goodwill of letting the public park in my lot and drive across it is running out. Let’s not forget that Isaacs St is a One Way Dead End!

Josh-glad to know that this will not be fought in the press but instead at the negotiating table. Am I invited to that table or are you and Mario going to hash it out together?

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 9:26 am

Let’s also remember Mario’s brilliant lawyering on the Firetree fiasco. The Quintard neighborhood is still dealing with that prisoner’s dilemma.

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 1:30 pm

I have withheld the identity of 1 member of Komi Ventures. Komi Ventures does not own any POKO properties.

The POKO properties are owned by Wall Street Opportunity Fund, LLC.

John Miller October 10, 2019 at 2:19 pm

This ongoing soap opera is the perfect example of “We the People” being fleeced by “We the Government.” It’s time for “We the People “ to change the cast of “We the Government” in City Hall.

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Milly,

Please call me. I am happy to explain to you my 100% legal, permitted and approved renovation plan is.

The sprinkler pipe accident was a factor but it only encouraged me to reward the retailers 1st.

There will be 4 new store fronts in record time.

The affected businesses will be back soon and better than ever, and there will also be a new dentist very soon.

Stay tuned.

Please don’t take the biased criticism without inquiring further.

Happy to speak to you or others.

niz October 10, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Ok now, John Miller the sounds about right! And yesss to the notation Milly made too. It is such a mess I cannot even keep up 🙁 so I really cannot state much more.

Lisa Brinton October 10, 2019 at 4:36 pm

I hate to burst your bubble Mike, but I’ve had a few $1000 campaign contributions, but certainly not as many as the mayor. In fact, my largest campaign contribution come from long time residents and land use reform advocates, Adolf Neaderland and his wife – both staunch Democrats and incredibly strong advocates for better planning and zoning. I believe you’ve had ‘exchanges’ with him.

The majority of my donations have been small, from ordinary residents tired of the mayor’s ‘clique’ that you are so proud to be a part of. You demonstrate every day how far an individual can go (literally & figuratively) with your appointed position, campaign donations and attack dog antics. Well done you!

Michael McGuire October 10, 2019 at 5:02 pm

Can someone at City Hall please explain what the end game is here?

How exactly does a law suite that so far has cost the Norwalk taxpayer around .75 million dollar benefit the taxpayers. And this is only the pre-trial! What will the full law suite cost?

It seems pretty clear in the LDA that the City has the same rights that it can enforce regardless of who owns the property. Therefore, why is the City pressing a law suit to force Milligan to give back the property to Olsen? What good does that achieve?

If we the public are being represented we should have a clear understanding of the issues are, no?

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Can we get a statement from the city explaining 2 very important aspects of the POKO fiasco.

1. Describe the circumstances and rationale for establishing the 23 Isaac’s St. lot buyback price at $3 million?

2. Describe the circumstances, steps taken, and process followed to transfer 43 phase I parking spaces onto phase II?

Was there a public zoning hearing or a city council meeting held for what was a material and major zoning change, and major LDA change? 43 spaces was more than the 10% threshold that made it a major change that would require public meetings.

Hint-No public meetings were held. Oops. The LDA was never changed. Oops. That means the change never legally happened. Oops.

Jason Milligan October 10, 2019 at 10:14 pm

I take issue with several statements in this story.

STATEMENT: “Milligan resists a court order to reveal who his partner is in the purchase of “POKO”properties” The truth is I withheld the identity of 1 partner that I have in KOMI Ventures which did not purchase any POKO properties!! Wall St Opportunity Fund, LLC is the company that bought the POKO properties.

STATEMENT: “He sought to have Lee dismiss the case against him on the grounds that the LDA was based on the 2004 Redevelopment Plan, which hadn’t been renewed in a timely manner, and then replaced this year with a redevelopment plan for a broader area.”

A more accurate statement is THE 2004 PLAN EXPIRED!!!

STATEMENT: “Milligan claims the City’s legal department is calling a halt to the effort to save Garden Cinemas from demolition.” I did not say that.

MISLEADING STATEMENT: “Coppola’s version of events came during March court testimony.

Milligan rescheduled the meeting several times, emails provided to NancyOnNorwalk have shown. The rescheduling was abrupt and City officials were given little notice.”

I have texts to prove that it was Laoise King that rescheduled the meeting multiple times and the meeting was supposed to be a brainstorm about ways to improve Wall Street. The funeral of Frank Zullo is what pushed the meeting up 1 day.

Josh Morgan Statement: “The City has a responsibility to Norwalk taxpayers to try to recover a key piece property that was to be used for parking for Phase I of the Wall Street Place development. That property was improperly transferred to Mr. Milligan, which required the property owner to try and find alternative parking solutions, and is the only reason the Garden Cinema is a part of this now.”

As noted previously, the Phase I parking was illegally transferred to Phase II in a non public deal that should have required a public hearing. It was never properly recorded or included in the land agreements. It is that move that caused the problems. Not something I did. I have followed the LDA to the letter and beyond since the day I acquired the properties. If the public parties had followed the proper steps then the parking transfer would have been legally recorded and enforceable.

The city claims “its their responsibility to protect the public interest by pursuing the lawsuit.” That they have to try to get the property back. That is only 1 remedy that they gave themselves in the LDA. The other remedies are to sue for specific performance, terminate the LDA or sue for damages.

Were is the push back to Mario, Josh & others to defend their claim that the lawsuit is protecting the city interests? What exact interest? How does the lawsuit protect the City interests? The ultimate relief the city is seeking is to quit claim the properties back to Olson. Why? The city has the exact same rights and remedies against me as they do against Olson. Shouldn’t they justify the astronomical amount of money being wasted?

Who was protecting the City interests when the Phase I parking was illegally transferred to Phase II? Or when the reEntry price for the 23 Isaacs street parking lot was increased from zero to $3 Million plus project costs? Those both happened long before I got involved.

If getting the property back is the ultimate goal then there is an adequate remedy under the law and under the LDA. It is the re entry procedure. They are not pursuing that remedy.

There is also a thing called negotiation. Josh says the solution will get done at the negotiating table not in the press. Okay-Please tell me where you have hidden the negotiating table?

Joanna Cooper October 10, 2019 at 11:13 pm

The 120K the city pays for the scorpion is chump change compared to the endless billing hours created by the scorpion (a self serving legal strategy). This is punishing to tax payers. The only ones winning here are the lawyers. Under Rilling the legal battles are non-stop. Fighting business owners and citizens in endless battles is what really stings.

Nancy Chapman October 11, 2019 at 12:11 am

Jason, you have represented your negotiations with the city as including a plan to build a parking garage on the former municipal lot, which you bought from Rich Olson. The parking garage would provide parking for Wall Street Place, as I understand it, and therefore negate the need for the Garden Cinemas to be demolished.

Celeste Champagne October 11, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Is there no “reply via eMail” icon for the Nancy on Norwalk newsletter? Most of my connections do not have Facebook and I would like them to see this newsworthy publication.

Amar October 12, 2019 at 2:59 pm

@Jason I hope you could become a billionaire keep up the good work
Keep on traveling the world and learn from others.
Ignore the ones that have no money vested and want to control your money…
American dream baby !!!
Land of freedom and opportunities!
Dont listen to the those that eat caviar in the dark and cry for the poor during the day
Dont waste your time with caviar leftist and fake Democrats…

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