Roslindale Neighbors: Swampland sale leads to lawsuit

May 19, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

LONGFELLOW AREA—Controversy about a Roslindale wetlands parcel known as 29 and/or 34 Morrison St. has led a Connecticut man to file a lawsuit claiming he was the victim of a classic swampland-selling scam.

Troy Strother of East Haddam, Conn., filed a still-pending suit in June, 2007 alleging that former Roslindale real estate agent Maria Dorta and two associates tricked him into buying worthless swampland on an unbuilt but planned “paper” street.

The suit was filed shortly after the Gazette revealed neighborhood concerns about Strother’s attempt to sell the parcel, which he apparently naively marketed as ready for development.

Strother’s lawsuit includes claims that he was drawn into the sale by a former Boston Police officer; given “deceptive” documents falsely showing that the parcel was ready for a “dream house”; and learned from a neighbor pretending to be a buyer that, “among other matters, the Mayor of Boston and the District City Councilor had expressed opposition to the Lot being developed.”

No phone numbers are listed for defendants Dorta, Julio Bermudez and Frank DeClements. Dorta and Bermudez owned the parcel as partners in a trust. They also worked at or owned Astar Realty on Hyde Park Avenue at the time of the sale. Astar is now located downtown, and an employee there told the Gazette that Dorta and Bermudez no longer work there. Astar’s Roslindale phone line is disconnected.

Strother’s attorney, Philip Posner of Wakefield, could not be reached for comment.

Selling and saving

The controversial lot is landlocked within city-protected wetlands surrounded by Coniston Road and Weld and Walter streets near the Roslindale/Jamaica Plain border. The area was divided into 37 lots, apparently more than a century ago. But many of the parcels are soggy wetland unsuited for development.

In 2003, major controversy raged over redevelopment ideas for the parcels. To get to the lots, developers would have actually built two streets that now only exist on paper—Morrison, planned as connecting Weld and Coniston, and an extension of Selwyn Street that would meet Morrison near Weld.

The Roslindale Wetlands Task Force, a subcommittee of the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association, formed to oppose the development. Joined by Mayor Thomas Menino and City Councilor Rob Consalvo, they got 26 of the parcels transferred to the Boston Conservation Commission (BCC), creating a 9.5-acre urban wild.

The other parcels remain in private ownership. Some may not technically be wetlands, though the lawsuit says at least part of 29/34 Morrison is wetland. In any case, the BCC would review any adjacent development.

It appears that 29 and 34 Morrison are the same parcel. Strother’s lawsuit says he was confused about the numbers as well but believes them to be the same. For unclear reasons, he purchased the land as 34 but put it up for sale as 29. Whatever its hypothetical paper street number, the parcel sits behind 178 Weld St.

Dorta triggered a new controversy in 2005 when she proposed building a house at 29 Morrison. That would have required actually building at least part of Morrison Street. The proposal never moved forward.

That appeared to be the last anyone heard about the parcel until March, 2007, when it was advertised for sale with Dorta’s house plan attached. The Task Force was shocked by the sales pitch, which said in part: “Current owner has done nearly all of the ‘Prep work’ and it will be available to you—site map, house plans, deed, variance not required.”

“The ads we have seen do not refer to the urban wild, attendant permitting issues, the lot’s presently landlocked state, or the climate at City Hall or in the community with regard to this matter,” the Task Force web site complained at the time.

Strother’s lawsuit has revealed that he was the one selling the land and essentially repeating the sales pitch that Dorta and her associates made to him. Shortly after that, the lawsuit says, Strother realized he had been “misled.”

Lawsuit

According to Strother’s lawsuit, his chapter of the story began in November, 2006, when DeClements approached Strother’s business partner with a sales offer for the lot. DeClements is identified as a former police officer who allegedly held no real estate license at the time.

DeClements said Dorta was looking for a quick sale because she was “in financial distress and needed to sell the real estate to pay a creditor,” according to the lawsuit. Dorta reportedly was directly involved in the sale, while Bermudez is named only as her partner in a real estate trust that technically owned the parcel.

Strother’s partner reportedly paid a $10,000 deposit to DeClements—also serving as his “finder’s fee”—to secure the lot.

Soon after, Strother met with Dorta, the suit says.

“Dorta told the Plaintiff that a single family house could be built on the lot,” the suit says. “Dorta told the Plaintiff that she had obtained a ‘variance’ from the City of Boston and showed the Plaintiff a document which she led him to believe was the evidence that a single family house could be built upon application for a construction permit.”

“Dorta told the Plaintiff that the plans showed her ‘dream house’ and the reason she couldn’t commence construction was because she had run out of money and was in financial distress,” the suit says.

Strother then paid $115,000 for the property, with part of the payment going directly to Dorta’s creditor, the suit says. Strother received various documents, including a deed that later proved to be not valid, according to the suit.

A few months later, Strother put the property on the market through a Dedham real estate office with the sales pitch that alarmed Longfellow Area residents. The ads got several responses—and that’s when Strother began to realize something was wrong, according to the suit.

The first warning sign was when a would-be buyer inspected the property and came back saying that “the variance was ‘no good’ and that the Lot contained ‘wetlands,’” the suit says.

An even more unpleasant surprise was when “a Mrs. Stevens” showed up at the real estate agent’s office. “Mrs. Stevens presented herself as an interested purchaser of the lot,” the suit says.

But then came a plot twist: “At the end of the meeting, Mrs. Stevens announced that she was a neighbor to the Lot and that the Lot ‘would never be built on.’

“As a result of the meeting with Mrs. Stevens, the Plaintiff discovered that the Lot was the subject of neighborhood controversy and, among other matters, the Mayor of Boston and the District City Councilor had expressed opposition to the Lot being developed,” the suit says.

Strother’s next step was filing the lawsuit. It accuses the defendants of breach of contract and defrauding him of the $115,000 in exchange for “a property that is of little or no value and for which a valid deed was never delivered.”

“Dorta intentionally misrepresented to Plaintiff condition of the lot, its eligibility to be built on and the existence of a zoning variance,” the suit says in detail.

Strother is seeking his money back along with damages and court costs, and a review of the paperwork to get him out of any ownership of the parcel.

The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court. A court clerk told the Gazette that the suit is still pending and is in the discovery, or evidence-gathering, phase.