When it comes to the Fulton Bank lawsuit, township redevelopment attorney Mark Cimino is far from throwing in the towel. And apparently, so is the township committee, which voted unanimously to allow Cimino to file an appeal—contingent on the premise that attorney’s fees can not exceed $10,000.
The motion passed unanimously at Thursday night's township committee meeting. Committeewoman Donna Szymborski was absent.
While the committee sailed through most of the agenda, the members entered into closed session to discuss the recently dismissed lawsuit and various issues relating to the finance department. After emerging more than an hour later, Committeeman Samuel Cianfarini motioned for the appeal, second by Deputy Mayor Sean Kilpatrick.
“We have millions of dollars with no confirmation of what its true use was,” said Cimino.
No clear paper trail
A lawsuit the township filed in September contended that Fulton Bank had not provided a full accounting of how about $4 million of a $10 million loan for construction at RiverWinds was spent.
“The public interest requires that they be held accountable for not knowing the actual dispensation of these funds," Cimino said, referring to Fulton Bank.
As litigation progressed, Cimino said it was apparent that Fulton Bank had no clear paper trail for funds it distributed. Cimino explained the bank’s records consist of one sheet descriptions, but with no invoices.
Furthermore, Cimino found that Fulton Bank had distributed funds by depositing money directly into the developer’s account at Park Bank, instead of issuing a two- or three-party check to ensure the money was used for its proper designation.
“The bank undertook the duty of dispensing the money properly and they have no records to fully substantiate where the money went,” said Cimino. “It’s our position that they had a responsibility to handle those public funds with care.”
Christopher Gibson, an attorney for Fulton Bank, had filed a motion to dismiss the litigation, as well as a motion to sanction Cimino for filing a “frivolous lawsuit.” Gibson cited in the motion for Cimino’s sanction that the lawsuit against Fulton Bank was politically motivated.
On Friday, Nov. 16, state Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the township was bound by the original guaranty. However, McDonnell denied both a motion to seek attorney’s fees from the township and the motion to sanction Cimino.
At the time, Cimino stated that he disagreed with the judge’s ruling, but would have to consult with the township committee before pursuing an appeal.
Cimino maintained late Thursday night that the township voted unanimously to allow him to file an appeal, making it a bipartisan effort.
'Throwing good money after bad'
Contacted late Thursday, Gibson, who did not attend the meeting, said he was "surpised and diappointed" by the township's decision to appeal.
"I think Judge McDonnell had a tremendous amount of information and briefs from the parties. She read a contract that's fairly straightforward and has no ambiguity and cannot be construed that they have a claim," Gibson said. "I don’t see how anyone could seriously believe when you read that agreement that Judge McDonnell got it wrong.
"I think they’re throwing good money after bad, and I think it’s unfortunate for the people of West Deptford and Fulton Bank, but we’ll respond when we see their papers."
Gibson added he's confident Fulton Bank will prevail in the appeal.
The township committee initially voted to allow Cimino to continue with litigation against Fulton Bank on Sept. 6. Cimino contended the suit could potentially recoup close to $4 million of the $10 million loan, which was intended for the development of RiverWinds. During a PowerPoint presentation at the September meeting, he cited a $1,200 disbursement for K-Swiss shoes and a $9,000 disbursement for printing and letterhead, as examples of what he believed to fall outside of the umbrella of the township’s guaranty.
For more on the Fulton Bank lawsuit, read:
- Cimino: $4.5 Million Disappeared in RiverWinds Golf and Tennis Project
- Democrats: RiverWinds Accusations Based on 'Thinnest of Facts'
- West Deptford Committee OKs Court Petition on RiverWinds Loan Info
- West Deptford Files Court Petition on RiverWinds Loan Documents
- Former Township Official Calls RiverWinds Loan Inquiry 'Politically Motivated'
- Judge Dismisses West Deptford's Lawsuit Against Fulton Bank
(Patch Regional Editor Tim Zatzariny Jr. contributed to this report.)
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