For Immediate Release: September 20, 2011
For More Information: Joe Fulgham (302) 744-4184
State House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a suspicious land deal between a state agency and a developer.
Rep. Lavelle’s request for a meeting with Charles M. Oberly, III (U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware) was sparked by the recent publication of the latest in a series of investigative stories detailing apparent sweetheart deals between the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and well-connected businessmen and developers.
In the latest story broken by The News Journal, developer Dennis E. Silicato was sold 2.2 acres of land adjacent to his existing property for $1. According to the News Journal, DelDOT specified in the 2006 deed that the parcel needed to remain “in its natural, wooded state.” Just three years later, the agency not only issued Mr. Silicato a revised deed removing the development restrictions, it also facilitated the creation of a lucrative connection to the busy Delaware 1, which runs along the property’s eastern border.
Royal Farms reportedly just concluded the purchase of 3.4 acres of land from Mr. Silicato – about half of which was comprised of the former DelDOT parcel – for $2.25 million.
“Delaware 1 is a limited access highway,” Rep. Lavelle said. “We’re actually spending tens-of-millions of dollars in ongoing projects to reduce ingress and egress points associated with this road. Yet in this case, for unexplained reasons, we created a new access point to the highway, making an asset that was sold for $1 worth millions. The developer pockets a boatload of cash and the taxpayers lose out on money that could have been used on the public’s behalf.”
Rep. Lavelle also noted that since Delaware 1 is a limited access highway, constructed with a large contribution of federal money, federal transportation officials must give their approval before a new access point is established. According to the News Journal, there is no record of any such authorization.
“I would like to know who in DelDOT signed off on approving this project, without the needed federal endorsement,” said State House Minority Whip Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View). “I plan to file a Freedom of Information Act request for this documentation. My concern isn’t so much about the lack of consultation with the feds as it is with the apparent deliberate circumvention of established protocols so a select few could benefit.”
The story detailed in Sunday’s edition of the News Journal is the latest in a series of embarrassing land deals made by DelDOT on bizarrely favorable terms to a handful of wealthy individuals. Another deal involved the lease of property to Christopher Tigani, a former manager of NKS Distributors, located adjacent to the lot sold to Mr. Silicato. That deal involved a lease of more than 60-years at a price that was a fraction of market value. Still other deals had DelDOT paying developers tens-of-thousands of dollars monthly to delay the building of homes on land that might have been needed for a U.S. 113 bypass near Millsboro. DelDOT cut the deal, despite the fact that the housing market crash all but guaranteed that neither project would move ahead in the foreseeable future.
“The details of these deals have been coming to light for years and continue to surface,” Rep. Lavelle said. “Yet, state officials just seemingly shrug their shoulders and move on without holding anyone accountable for the apparent soft corruption of these insider deals. Thus far, we’ve had two DelDOT senior officials implicated: one retired and the other was reassigned. That’s not justice, that’s shuffling the deck to hide the jokers.”
In a letter to U.S. Attorney Oberly, Rep. Lavelle wrote: “While I do not lightly invite the federal government into the affairs of Delaware, many aspects of this case do involve the federal government and I question the ability of Delaware officials to fully and honestly investigate this issue and impose accountability on those involved.”
In a brief reply, Mr. Oberly said while he is recused from probing the DelDOT land deal, he has turned over Rep. Lavelle’s request to the Criminal Division Chief Keith Rosen.
Rep. Lavelle says he hopes Mr. Rosen will meet with him to discuss what the U.S. Justice Department can do to thoroughly scrutinize the deals that have been publicly reported, as well as any new incidents a detailed investigation may reveal.
“Why should anyone have faith in their state or federal government if neither is willing to fully examine the scandalous practices that have come to the public’s attention?” Rep. Hocker said.