Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff is demanding at least $35 million from Camden in a new legal filing that accuses the city of scuttling his deal to sell his Victor Lofts apartment building based on a willful misinterpretation of their 17-year-old agreement for the apartment’s property tax breaks.
Lawyers for Dranoff said in the filing Tuesday in state Superior Court in Camden County that city officials were pursuing “a vendetta” against him by not transferring those tax breaks in time for the property’s planned sale and then by falsely accusing him of defrauding Camden out of $9 million.
Camden’s accusation was “based upon phony and inconsistent accounting gymnastics,” Dranoff’s lawyers wrote. “The reasons given for this are shallow and contrived and reflect ... local politics and an agenda with nefarious motives.”
Camden spokesman Vincent Basara did not immediately respond to a message seeking reaction to Dranoff’s allegations.
The filing marks the latest volley in a legal battle that started in mid-2018, when Dranoff asked the city to transfer the tax-break deal to Apartment Investment & Management Co., or Aimco, which had been under contract to pay $71.2 million for the Victor Building in a package deal comprising six properties in and around Philadelphia.
After Dranoff alleged in a U.S. District Court lawsuit filed in June that Camden officials were in breach of a contractual obligation to process that transfer, Camden filed its suit in Superior Court claiming that Dranoff schemed to withhold funds owed to the city as part of his 2002 deal for tax breaks to renovate the vacant Victor Building into an apartment tower.
Lawyers for Camden claimed in the suit that Dranoff’s Victor Urban Development LLC had agreed to pay the city a share of its gains from the 349-apartment Victor Building if the gains surpassed a certain threshold, but that the LLC failed to document its profits to avoid doing so.
In his filing Tuesday, which contains both answers and counterclaims to Camden’s complaint, Dranoff’s lawyers dispute the characterization, saying the city’s claim that the developer enjoyed “excess profits” were derived “from a set of numbers that do not exist."
Dranoff’s lawyers also assert that a “tax agreement" between Camden and the developer stipulated that his payments to the city were not to exceed $200,000 a year. That steady rate of taxation and other assurances were necessary to give banks confidence to lend for the project in the blighted city with a reputation for poor governance, the lawyers wrote.
The Victor “has consistently been among the top taxpayers in Camden despite its tax exemption, paying far more than similar and newer projects that have been granted much more generous exemptions,” lawyers wrote. “It appears that Victor Urban Renewal has been singled out among other waterfront developers on the fabricated pretext of net profits.”
Dranoff’s claim for damages is based on his losses related to the thwarted sale to Aimco and other alleged harms.
The filing Tuesday came less than two weeks after Superior Court Judge Steven J. Polansky ruled against an effort by Dranoff to have the suit against him dismissed, rejecting arguments that it would improperly interfere with the separate federal lawsuit that Dranoff filed in June.