Poles in South Florida wondered where the campaign money was coming from. The response led to a besieged NJ developer
Shelly Petrolia was catching up on some paperwork from her campaign to remain mayor of her South Florida beach town when she noticed an unknown name among her contributors: High Point Services LLC.
Why was this obscure New Jersey firm interested in the city of Delray Beach? She asked.
Unraveling this little mystery reveals a curious subplot in the saga around a much larger company, National Realty Investment Advisors, which presents outrageous returns to investors in television and radio commercials of its development projects. Many of these projects were carried out in Philadelphia, where he has already built or renovated more than 1,000 homes.
As The Inquirer reported, the NRIA is under investigation by the FBI and federal and state financial regulators, and a former key executive has been separately accused by federal authorities of fraud.
No criminal charges or civil complaints have been filed against the company, which is rushing to complete its projects along the east coast in time to deliver the promised returns on the $ 560 million it has raised from investors. He recently revealed that he is now using cash from new investors to pay existing investors.
And one of the main projects he depends on to start making a profit is in Delray Beach.
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In that town, Mayor Petrolia called the lawyer who had deposited the check for $ 1,000 to get an address for High Point so she could send a thank you note.
The lawyer was a former mayor of Delray Beach named Tom Carney who had represented NRIA locally in the past. He gave her the High Point address in Secaucus, New Jersey, she said. But he told her not to worry about the thank you.
Petrolia didn’t know it at the time, but High Point was one of three New Jersey companies contributing to Delray Beach politicians with a common connection to the County town of Palm Beach: all were started by employees of the NRIA. And NRIA needed approval from the authorities for their $ 59 million apartment project there.
None of the donations violated Florida election laws, which allow any person or business to contribute up to $ 1,000 per candidate in a local election, provided they do so of their own accord, Jan said. Jacobowitz, a former Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission member.
But that arguably violates the intent of these laws, which seek to limit the amount a particular person or company can send to a candidate, said Jacobowitz, now a legal ethics consultant and professor at the University of Miami. .
“It doesn’t appear to be illegal, but it goes against the spirit of the law,” she said.
The NRIA said in a statement that “all political donations including [it] is aware were legally made.
Campaign fundraising records show NRIA-related money started pouring into the Delray Beach campaign coffers in November of last year, around the time the company started asking for the campaign. government approval for its 301 apartment project on a 1.5 acre site it acquired in the city’s dilapidated rail corridor. section.
It was one of some 20 large projects along the East Coast that the company was struggling to complete within the timeframe it had based its financial projections on. Another is a huge apartment complex on the Delaware River waterfront in South Philadelphia on what was once part of the proposed site for a Foxwoods casino complex.
Since the proposed five-story, 100-unit apartment project in Delray Beach was to be larger and with more housing than the land use rules allow, the NRIA needed a majority of the commission. of five members of the city to approve a modification of these regulations to the place.
Three of these commissioners were nearing the end of their three-year terms and were seeking re-election. Among them was Deputy Deputy Mayor Adam Frankel, who received a total of $ 5,000 related to NRIA in November and December.
The money came in the form of $ 1,000 checks from the company itself, its CEO Rey Grabato, and Glenn La Mattina, its COO. But the two remaining $ 1,000 checks were from less immediately identifiable sources.
One was from High Point, whose New Jersey records were set in 2019 by Patryk Golaszewski. His LinkedIn profile lists him as the NRIA Operations Manager.
Another came from AJ Sales & Marketing Inc., whose New Jersey records list was founded in 2012 by Arthur R. Scuttaro, according to the records. The NRIA website lists AJ Scutaro as vice president for project management. (The company said Scutaro – with a “t” – was the family’s correct spelling based on immigration papers.)
Later in December, another set of five checks for $ 1,000 reached Ryan Boylston, another Delray Beach commissioner for re-election. Four were from NRIA, Grabato, High Point and AJ Sales & Marketing. The latest was from X-On Advisors LLC, a New Jersey company started by La Mattina, the chief operating officer, in 2012.
As for Petrolia, it received $ 1,000 each in late February and early March from NRIA, Grabato, High Point and John Farina, president of US Construction Inc., the Philadelphia-based NRIA contractor on the 301 Apartments project.
In total, NRIA-related contributions to the three Commissioners amounted to $ 14,000.
Golaszewski, Scutaro and La Mattina did not respond to LinkedIn posts asking for contributions from their companies. Farina did not respond to a text.
When legislation for Apartments 301 was put to a vote in the first of two readings on February 9, Boylston and Frankel joined a third commissioner who was not in the midst of a re-election attempt to form a majority in favor of legislation.
Boylston said in an interview that he supported the proposal because it would help revitalize what he saw as a dilapidated section of the city. Frankel did not answer the phone and text messages.
Petrolia joined the two-member minority opposed to the project, which said it feared it would displace members of the Haitian working-class community who owned businesses in the industrial zone and lived nearby.
In a follow-up vote, after the arrival of its NRIA checks, Petrolia changed its vote in favor of the project. In an interview, she said she remains opposed and her change was a tactical maneuver. Under the commission’s rules, she said, her “yes” vote gave her the opportunity to call for a new vote to kill the project in the future.
In fact, she said, she hadn’t associated NRIA – or the checks – with the 301 Apartments proposal because the approvals for that project were being handled by a lawyer other than Carney and no one known to be associated with the company had not participated in the hearings on the project.
She said she was amazed to learn the connection.
“I don’t know if they think they can buy someone,” Petrolia said. “But they can never buy me.”