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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Federal Probe Needed on Questionable Land Deals

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Rep. Greg Lavelle

Although it pains us to say it, it is time to turn to the U.S. Justice Department to probe a series of suspicious land deals between well-connected businessmen and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

A local newspaper has just posted the most recent in a series of investigative stories detailing another apparent sweetheart deal. In the latest article, DelDOT sold developer Dennis E. Silicato 2.2 acres of land in Milford for $1. The land was adjacent to property already owned by Mr. Silicato.

According to the published report, DelDOT specified in the 2006 deed that the parcel needed to remain “in its natural, wooded state.” Just three years later, the agency not only issued Mr. Silicato a revised deed removing the development restrictions, it also facilitated the creation of a lucrative connection to busy Delaware 1, which runs along the property’s eastern border.

Sen. Karen Peterson

Royal Farms reportedly just concluded the purchase of 3.4 acres of land from Mr. Silicato – about half of which was comprised of the former DelDOT parcel – for $2.25 million.

Understand that Delaware 1 is a limited access highway. The state and federal governments are actually spending tens-of-millions of dollars in ongoing projects to reduce ingress and egress points associated with this road. Yet in this case, for unexplained reasons, we created a new access point to the highway making an asset sold for $1 worth millions.

Since Delaware 1 was constructed with a large contribution of federal money, federal transportation officials must give their approval before a new access point is established. According to the most recent story, there is no record of any such authorization. Apparently, established protocols were deliberately ignored specifically so a select few could benefit to the detriment of taxpayers.

Rep. Gerald Hocker

This latest story is only the most recent in a series of embarrassing land deals made by DelDOT on bizarrely favorable terms to a handful of wealthy individuals. Another deal involved the lease of property to Christopher Tigani, a former manager of NKS Distributors, located adjacent to the lot sold to Mr. Silicato. That deal involved a lease of more than 60-years at a price that was a fraction of market value. Still other deals had DelDOT paying developers tens-of-thousands of dollars monthly to delay the building of homes on land that might have been needed for a U.S. 113 bypass near Millsboro. DelDOT cut the deal, despite the fact that the housing market crash all but guaranteed that neither project would move ahead in the foreseeable future.

The details of these deals have been coming to light for some time and continue to surface. Yet state officials just seemingly shrug their shoulders and move on without holding anyone accountable for the apparent soft corruption of these insider deals. Thus far, of the two DelDOT senior officials implicated in these transactions, one has retired and the other was reassigned. That’s not justice, that’s shuffling the deck to hide the jokers.

Some Delaware officials seem unwilling or unable to fully investigate these questionable actions. The public has been assured that new procedures have been put into place to prevent such incidents from re-occurring, but why should they – or anyone else – place any faith in these pronouncements when no one has been held accountable for these repeated past acts? Our state government’s failure to act has created a credibility gap that cannot be closed from within.

Sadly, we now believe there is no other choice but to ask for outside help.

A recent letter sent to U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly by State Rep. Greg Lavelle stated: “While I do not lightly invite the federal government into the affairs of Delaware, many aspects of this case do involve the federal government and I question the ability of Delaware officials to fully and honestly investigate this issue and impose accountability on those involved.”

In a brief reply, Mr. Oberly said while he is recused from probing the DelDOT land deal, he has turned over Rep. Lavelle’s request to the Criminal Division Chief Keith Rosen.

We urge Mr. Rosen and the U.S. Justice Department to do what our state officials have not: Thoroughly scrutinize the controversial DelDOT land deals that have been previously reported, as well as any new incidents such an investigation may reveal, for any evidence of criminal wrong-doing.

Taxpayers have lost millions-of-dollars in these deals and they deserve more than empty promises that their pockets will not be picked again.

 

Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) is a State Representative serving the 11th district. Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) is a State Representative serving the 38th district. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) is a State Senator serving the 9th district. 

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