Gilboa landowner sues summer camp for $1.25 million

The former owner of a shuttered Gilboa resort is suing the site's new owners, accusing them of fraud, stealing his golf cart, hot-wiring his tractor, and letting animals trample his lawn.

In 2006, Jerome J. Gauthier sold the site of the former Golden Acres resort in Schoharie County to Oorah, Inc., a New-Jersey-based organization that runs Jewish Girl Zone, a girls-only summer camp with a mission of “awakening Jewish children and their families to their heritage.”

Last May, Gauthier filed a complaint in state court demanding $1.25 million from Oorah and its CEO, Eliyohu Mintz, for breaching an agreement to buy more of his land. On January 8, the case was transfered to federal court, where a hearing is scheduled for March 4. 

In his complaint,  Gauthier recounts a real estate negotiation that turned ugly. In 2005, Gauthier put 7 of acres land stocked with swimming pools and horse stables on the market.  Oorah offered him $3 million.

Then things soured. In June of 2006, according to the complaint, Gauthier and Mintz completed the contract of sale “under very stressful conditions, taking advantage of the plaintiff’s medical condition.” From the complaint:

Eliyohu Mintz specifically said, "We are not paying for anything spent prior today." After a heated exchange, the parties completed the contract in which the Plaintiffs paid for the various items what were not obligated to be paid for and which had been agreed to be paid for by the Defendants.

Around this time, someone from Oorah allegedly entered a barn on some of Gauthier's remaining  property and drove off with a golf cart. That hurt, according to court documents, not just because Oorah refused to return the golf cart, which was worth $6,000. Also, the complaint states,

...said golf cart [was] personal property used for the medical needs of plaintiff's wife.

That wasn't the only piece of hardware to suffer in the disagreement, the complaint continues. Someone from the camp also reportedly tampered with Gauthier’s tractor:

The Defendants attempted to take away from the Plaintiffs a tractor owned by Plaintiffs; said tractor was being used on plaintiff’s lands. The defendant attempted to hot wire, or re-wire, the tractor and $700.00 was expended to rectify the tractor’s operation.

And then there was the matter of livestock:

[I]n actions of spite and malice, the Defendants allowed their animals to trample a new lawn on Plaintiffs' retained property.

But what seems to have enraged Gauthier is the fact that Oorah allegedly broke an agreement to exercise its right of first refusal to buy a nearby 400-acre property for $1.2 million.

According to the complaint, after the sale of the resort to Oorah, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection came calling on Gauthier with an offer of $3,000 per acre for 400 acres of additional land that Oorah had said it wanted to buy. Gauthier asked Oorah if it would match that price, and Oorah agreed, promising to pay $1.25 million for it by February 2009.

But only $50,000 of that appeared, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, Oorah allegedly claimed that it would not pay the full price because the DEP had lowered its estimate of the land's value by $400,000, a statement the DEP later denied.

Because of all this, Gauthier now wants out:

The conduct of the Defendants herein indicates a pattern and course of conduct to fraudulently induce the Plaintiffs into said contract with the intention of dragging out the subject contract and thereafter ‘lowballing’ the Plaintiffs with various claims and actions on their part to end up purchasing the subject 400+/- acres for subsequently less money than the $1,250,000.00.

This is not the first lawsuit aimed at Oorah by neighbors of Jewish Girl Zone. In 2008, neighbors complaining of bright lights and loud noises filed a class action lawsuit against the camp in state court. They demanded $10,000 in damages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Stamford has been more welcoming to Oorah, which bought the Scotch Valley Ski Resort there last year.  That resort will be reincarnated as another camp, this one for Jewish boys, this summer.  For now, Jewish Boy Zone has managed to stay on its neighbors’ good sides. Last summer, it launched a campaign to win local hearts and minds by giving away free ski equipment. As Clifford Meth, an Oorah spokesman, told the Oneonta Daily Star in July:

We're only too happy to give away this equipment to area residents as a way of saying, ‘Hello, we're glad to be here with you.'

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