Arlington, Va—A federal court has now approved an extortion scheme using eminent domain under last year’s Kelo decision. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the rulings, developers may threaten property owners, “Your money or your land.”
Think this is an overstatement?
Consider what is happening right now in Port Chester, N.Y., to entrepreneur Bart Didden and his business partner, whose case will be considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 5, 2007.
With the blessing of officials from the Village of Port Chester, the Village’s chosen developer approached Didden and his partner with an offer they couldn’t refuse. Because Didden planned to build a CVS on his property—land the developer coveted for a Walgreens—the developer demanded $800,000 from Didden to make him “go away” or ordered Didden to give him an unearned 50 percent stake in the CVS development. If Didden refused, the developer would have the Village of Port Chester condemn the land for his private use. Didden rejected the bold-faced extortion. The very next day the Village of Port Chester condemned Didden’s property through eminent domain so it could hand it over to the developer who made the threat.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this extortion under last year’s Kelo eminent domain decision. The court ruled that because this is taking place in a “redevelopment zone” they couldn’t stop what the Village is doing.
“Essentially, the courts have ruled Kelo turns any redevelopment zone into a Constitution-free zone for property owners confronted by politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Didden and argued on behalf of the Kelo property owners. “We want the Supreme Court to rule that the Constitution does not permit governments or citizens acting on their behalf to demand money in exchange for allowing property owners to keep what is rightfully theirs. The very fact that we have to ask the highest court in the land for such a ruling underscores how precarious and threatening things are getting for ordinary American landowners.”
“My case is about extortion through the abuse of eminent domain; it is about payoffs and government run amok,” said Didden. “It took me years of hard work to buy that property, pay off my mortgages and really feel like I own it. How dare the Village of Port Chester and this developer threaten me in this way. I want to see integrity restored to the governmental process of exercising eminent domain. There is no integrity here. Unless the Supreme Court takes up my case, I fear for anyone else who owns a piece of property not just in Port Chester, but anywhere a politically connected developer is eyeing it.”
For now, the property remains vacant.
Didden expressed universal disappointment with the government officials who are charged with the duty of protecting his rights. “What really surprised me about this whole ordeal was the total lack of concern my situation earned from the Village politicians, to the County District Attorney’s office, all the way into the federal courts. A private citizen using the government’s power is extorting me. And the government that was supposed to protect my rights is nowhere to be found. If anything, it is making this extortion possible. It is an outrage.”