Stevan Goldin, an environmental activist who has become expert at slowing — if not stopping — development projects big and small from Gloucester to Boston, has been charged with extortion of developers following a lengthy police investigation.
A criminal complaint was issued Wednesday by District Court Clerk Margaret Daly Crateau, based on the report of Gloucester Detective Steve Mizzoni, which identified two developers — Jay McNiff and Sam Park — as having been subjected to demands for money from Goldin.
Police prosecutor Jack Jenkins was expected today to serve Goldin with the complaint, which sets July 1 as the date of arraignment. The maximum penalty for a conviction under the state extortion law is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The complaint lists his address as 14 Hodkins St. in the city's Riverdale section, which is the home of Grace Schrafft, a legal ally of Goldin's and a frequent member of his 10-citizen appeals groups.
The Times could not reach Goldin or Schrafft, who was believed to be out of town. The phone number given for Goldin in the complaint rings "no longer in service." He did not return messages left at a cell phone number for him given to the Times.
McNiff gave the police a sworn affidavit that Goldin asked him for $375,000 as the price "for not appealing" to block or delay a newly-filed residential development at the end of Whittemore Street on riverfront property formerly known as the Cape Ann Anchor & Forge.
McNiff declined to be interviewed. But his affidavit describes a series of recent discussions with Goldin, who is quoted as saying, "I'm looking for $375,000 in value for not appealing your Chapter 91 (river access) application." According to McNiff, Goldin added that the amount was nonnegotiable, and reminded McNiff, "I can tie you up for a long time on your project."
"I was surprised and unnerved by such a bold demand," McNiff wrote.
According to his affidavit, Goldin proposed creating a new "501(c)3," a phrase that describes charitable, nonprofit corporations.
McNiff is the son of a successful developer and co-developer of Station Place and the Myrtle Square Shopping Center alongside Gloucester's commuter rail station that helped jumpstart the renewal of the city center in the early years of this decade.
Park, a Boston-based developer who has begun site work on what will be Gloucester's largest commercial project, a 200,000 square foot, mixed-income shopping center adjacent to Fuller School off Blackburn Circle, told the police that he too was asked to pay "a substantial price" for Goldin's allowing Gloucester Crossing go forward without delays, which an appeal could ensure.
Nowhere in his written report did Mizzoni put a dollar figure on the requests from Park.
However, the court released to the Times yesterday a copy of a typed "settlement agreement" from 2006 with penned editing in what appears to be Goldin's distinctive handwriting.
In the margins of the agreement, which carries a signature on the Sam Park line but none on the Stevan Goldin line, are handwritten notes and instructions for the payment of $10,000 to the Wingaersheek Fund, a charitable corporation to which, according to Mizzoni's investigation, Goldin directed payments from the developments.
In a preliminary internal report given to the Times by the court, Mizzoni on May 23 wrote that last November he was investigating the Wingaersheek Fund and was told by the state Attorney General's Office that Goldin had not registered the charity as required. The attorney general's office sent Goldin a notice to "cease and desist all fund-raising activities" for the fund until it was registered.
Before McNiff submitted sworn his affidavit, Mizzoni filed a criminal complaint, charging Goldin with the lesser crime of improper solicitation for a charity, a charge that carries a one-year sentence and a $1,000 fine.
Park told the Times yesterday that he uncomfortably agreed to make a series of third-party mitigation payments requested by Goldin during talks they had in 2006 while Gloucester Crossing was still of an uncertain future before the Conservation Commission.
"I didn't think that was very proper, but pragmatically," Park said he hoped, "he'd go away."
But then he said Goldin added the demand of a payment to the Wingaersheek Fund and refused to describe its work, at which point Park said he ended the discussions with Goldin, whose "reputation preceded him," Park said.
Park's attorney, Michele Harrison, said Goldin made financial demands of another client, Stop & Shop, early in the decade while it was working through permitting and was slowed by Goldin's fierce opposition to the modernization of the East Gloucester plaza.
She said Stop & Shop made no payments to Goldin.
The marked-up document Park discussed contains handwritten margin notes indicating that he agreed to put $23,000 into an escrow account for unnamed "institutions," and give $5,000 to Main Street merchant Janis Shea to hold for use to "fund research into downtown revitalization."
The typed draft also contains clauses itemizing agreed-upon donations totally more than $30,000 to the National Audubon Society, Sawyer Free Library, Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, Gloucester Marine Heritage Center and the Essex Ship Building Institute.
Park told the Times he was already prepared to make mitigation payments to some, if not all of these, organizations before Goldin intervened on their behalf and later on behalf of his own Wingaersheek Fund.
Shea told the Times that a couple of years ago, Goldin told her that "Sam Park was supposed to pay him some money and (Goldin) didn't know what to do with it." She said, "I'm definitely not involved" in any illegal acts, and assumed that Goldin came to her because she was the downtown "busybody."
The Harvard-educated Goldin, 66, was raised on Long Island in New York. With his rail-thin frame and shock of unkempt hair, he is a well-known figure in uniform — dungarees, flannel shirt and sneakers — scrutinizing development files, testifying against building plans in Gloucester and Rockport, when he isn't doing the same farther south.
According to Mizzoni, Goldin by himself and with enablers — residents who sign his petitions and give him the standing under state law to intervene in some cases where a single appellant is barred, such as waterfront access — has at least 20 active appeals in Gloucester. He also leads a 10-citizen appeal group that has bogged down the redevelopment of the Cape Ann Tool Co. property in Rockport.
In Boston, his targets have had big-city scale — for example, a $140 million condo project in East Boston and the long delayed Fan Pier redevelopment project on the South Boston waterfront, among others.
He also has been active in Peabody, Danvers and Beverly.
A pariah to the development community, Goldin is revered by many preservationists for his stamina and courage. He and a 10-citizen group opposed a $4 million investment in the sewer treatment plant in 2004 to reduce noxious odors that had made living in the vicinity an unhealthy nightmare. Goldin explained that while he felt for the residents, the city should not waste money on the odor control effort and build a new plant.
The extortion charge, with its possible maximum jail penalties of five years with a fine of $5,000, is the most serious legal objection to Goldin's tactics, but far from the first.
He was arrested two years ago for trespassing on the Annisquam River site where Mac Bell was preparing to begin blasting and site work for a green commercial building. Over Goldin's objections, the council last week agreed to allow Bell to erect a wind turbine.
Goldin's self-written and -presented appeals against a subdivision by the Building Center in Riverdale and a two-home development in West Gloucester were condemned in 2004 by the Massachusetts Appeals Court which described the efforts as "frivolous." The court ordered Goldin to pay court costs and the legal fees of the attorney for the developers, Michael Faherty.
The charges amounted to nearly $10,000, which seemed beyond the means of Goldin, who gave every indication of being destitute. He told the Times he earned money as a part-time taxi driver and freelance writer.
In February 2007, the police were contacted but no charges filed after Goldin was discovered hiding in a stall of the men's bathroom at the City Hall annex on Pond Road after the building was closed for the day.
At the time of the harshly worded Appeals Court rulings against him, he was living in a small apartment in the Rockport highlands. The Appeals Court chastised Goldin for intervening in cases in Gloucester where he didn't reside.
Soon afterward, Goldin moved into Gloucester. At first he was invited to stay in the West Gloucester home of ship builders Phil Bolger and Suzanne Altenberger, but soon he left there. He moved often, taking advantage of the offers of friends and members of his network of anti-development activists, until he lived off-season in a home on Nautilus Road opposite Good Harbor Beach.
The Appeals Court called the 10-citizen appeal of the Building Center project "a paradigm of frivolity" in 2006. Goldin and his 10 citizens appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, which without comment rejected Goldin and his colleagues' case earlier this year. As the Building Center began work earlier this month, Goldin announced he would appeal again.
Faherty, the attorney for the Building Center, for years has been Goldin's outspoken nemesis, describing him as a "repetitive litigant," a description to which Goldin took offense, arguing it made him sound like a "serial killer."
Yesterday, Faherty told the Times that in 2005 and again in 2006 he attempted without success to have the state Attorney General's Office initiate a criminal investigation against Goldin's requests for money from developers as the price for not intervening to slow or stop projects.
"On my personal knowledge," said Faherty, "Goldin has made requests for money" of other developers. The criminal charges, Faherty said, "do not surprise me in the least."
Faherty was critical of the allies who sign on to Goldin's petitions to give him standing to extend appeals into the court systems, often stalling projects for years.
The Building Center project was introduced in 2000 and only recently cleared Goldin's last attempt to hold it back. At that, Goldin promised to start another run of appeals.
In 2005, Goldin's tactics took a new turn. He began investing his own money into the appeal by Louise Palazzola, who was fighting to prevent Gloucester Cooperative Bank from undertaking an expansion to Main Street across from her used miscellany shop, Stuff.
In a deposition taken by the city, which was sued by Palazzola for allowing the bank permission to expand, Palazzola said Goldin had given her $2,500 to help finance her appeal.
Her appeal was summarily rejected by a Superior Court judge, but with Goldin advising her to fight on, Palazzola took an appeal and the bank changed its plans.
Palazzola did not attempt to stop the second design now nearing completion.
Richard Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.