NORWALK, Conn. — Richard Olson is attempting to settle the claims filed against him in the “POKO” lawsuit. A positive result would leave real estate broker Jason Milligan as the only original defendant left battling it out in court with the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.
Tuesday’s Common Council agenda includes “authorization to settle claim” with Olson, brother of late POKO Partners President Ken Olson, and five POKO-related legal entities under Richard Olson’s control, in the lawsuit inspired when Richard Olson sold Milligan the former Leonard Street municipal lot in 2018. The apparent settlement follows a mediation session held Oct. 20. An executive session may precede the Council vote on the settlement.
Milligan and ally Bryan Meek, the lone Council Republican, note that the meeting is being held on Election Night.
“Think there will be robust public participation?” Milligan asked in an email, also saying, “Do you think Rich Olson and his various insolvent LLC’s have any money to pay to settle? My guess is the settlement is for peanuts.”
The City did not respond to an email asking if anything can be divulged about the settlement and did not respond to Milligan’s comments.
Milligan is being sued by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, accused of unfair trade practices and “sham” real estate transfers in his 2018 purchase of properties slated to become parts of Wall Street Place phases II and III, often referred to as “POKO.” Olson sold him the properties after being warned by the Redevelopment Agency that, in its view, this would violate the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) governing the former municipal parking lot, granted to the development in exchange for its completion and replacement of the parking spaces.
Milligan paid a total $5.2 million for the five properties and assigned a $3.2 million value to the parking lot. His defense to City ire and legal actions includes many taunting remarks toward Mayor Harry Rilling, who he has assigned the hashtag “Angry Mayor,” and Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, who he sometimes calls “Super Mario.”
Milligan owns more than 40 properties in the Wall Street area.
“Clearly there is personal animosity towards me from the Mayor and Mario,” Milligan wrote Saturday. “Mayor/Mario ‘Mayorio’ have complete and total control. They/It can execute a personal agenda and nobody, absolutely nobody within city government will question them. I had the courage to speak truth to power. POKO was and is a corrupt project. They prefer to keep that hidden. The only thing I am unsure of is which is more prevalent from Mayorio, corruption or incompetence…”
The Wall Street provocateur said he’d waive confidentiality about the mediation, if he could. “I would love to talk about it.”
Milligan recently made public a settlement offer he’d received from the plaintiffs and his own counteroffer.
In March 2020, the plaintiffs offered Milligan the chance to settle the case for $1.9 million. Milligan mocked the offer and the City for making it.
Recently, he attempted to take the deal. Instead, the City and Redevelopment Agency told him they wanted $4.5 million. Milligan called that “ridiculous.”
He dropped the plan to raise $1.9 million to pay the plaintiffs and instead said he’d sell the City and Redevelopment Agency their lot back for $3.5 million, a price derived from land agreements made before he got involved and recorded in land records. He said that’s the negotiated strike price plus the money he’s invested in the lot.
“My offer streamlines what they negotiated in the LDA and its various amendments like the LRA & LRA-A. The ability to ReEnter came with baggage and potential consequences,” Milligan wrote, referring to Loan Recognition Agreements. He wrote, “This whole deal is not that complicated if we were allowed to talk about it openly. The money wasted in proportion to what is at stake is utterly ridiculous! Perhaps Mayorio have small hands and are using this fight to over compensate…”
Plaintiffs seek to take back the property by having the Court reverse the sale and also seek damages.
Technically, there’s one other defendant involved.
Pamela Olson, Ken Olson’s widow and estate executrix, was pulled into the fray in May 2021 when the plaintiffs added her as a defendant under the “veil piercing” doctrine. Judge Sheila Ozalis granted her summary judgment in August, meaning the case against her was dismissed, on the grounds that too much time had passed since the lawsuit was filed.
The plaintiffs have appealed that ruling.
Although a trial is scheduled for March, Milligan’s attorney, David Rubin, recently warned that the lawsuit could continue for an addition year given the time the appeal would take. He also said that the plaintiffs face risks in having the case go to a jury.
Meek, a former Board of Education member, said the BoE never holds a meeting on Election Night.
“The last time Election Day was on Tuesday the 8th, the latest it can be, was 2016. The Council did hold a meeting that night which lasted 30 minutes and seemed mostly inconsequential although the minutes are not available in the archives for some reason,” Meek wrote.
But, “even more curious” is that the agenda “includes settlement of one of the myriad legal actions regarding POKO (like it really couldn’t wait after a decade), roughly $7 million in spending, and appointment of a Department head with the 3rd largest budget (while she has been acting head for several months, like that couldn’t wait until another night either).”
Vanessa Valadares is set to become Chief of Operations and Public Works.
Mayor Harry Rilling said the City’s charter “mandates we meet on the second Tuesday of each month. We never cancel those meetings.”
Meek said he won’t attend Tuesday’s exercise of “government in the shadows.”
“I’m not participating in any executive session of predetermined conclusion without a vote only to be later accused of leaking something,” he wrote. “I am curious about what could possibly be settled with nearly bankrupt entities leftover from Olson, but the pattern established the last 10 years promises Norwalk taxpayers aren’t going to be the beneficiaries. Instead, I’ll be spending my time instead picking up the litter from the campaigns at local schools.”
In a Tuesday email, Meek said he hasn’t been accused of leaking information from executive session but knows people do it.
“I’m not going to give anyone the opportunity to make me the scapegoat for their continued failures. Maybe I’m missing something productive tonight, but given the history I doubt it,” he said.
Milligan predicted he will win the lawsuit because of his dedication to his business.
“Mayorio is fighting for ego and for hurt feelings in an area of Norwalk that is tangential for the Mayor and irrelevant for part-time ‘Busting at the Seams’ Mario from New Haven County. I am fighting as a way of life,” Milligan wrote. “I LOVE Wall Street. I am there almost every day of my live and when I am not there I am thinking about it and I am talking to all my tenants, and potential tenants or artists & potential artists or other people that live, own and work in the area.”
He said, “I am on the right side. Mayorio is not! They are merely delaying the inevitable, and they are making everything more difficult and costly.”
Updated, 1:15 p.m.: More information.