By Fred Stabbert III
WHITE PLAINS March 23, 2001 With little fanfare, one of the longest and most expensive trials ever to come out of Sullivan County apparently ended on Friday, March 16, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
DeFalco vs. Bernas, as the case has become known, began 11 years ago when Top of the World Developer Joseph DeFalco brought an action against various town and county officials and area businessmen, claiming that his efforts to develop real estate in Sullivan County were illegally impeded as a result of the operation of the Town of Delaware as a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO).
In its 40-page decision handed down Friday, Circuit Judges Kearse and Sack and District Judge Underhill affirmed all the lower court rulings, effectively ending the case, according to one legal scholar.
It was estimated that the plaintiffs and defendants in this 11-year-long battle spent more than $2,000,000.
The judges upheld the $250,000 award which DeFalco is to receive from John Bernas, an area contractor, for the extortion of sand and gravel by Bernas. Under the RICO litigation, that award will be trebled to $750,000.
In a published report, an attorney for Bernas was unclear what may follow a possible effort for retrial, an appeal, or taking the case to the United States Supreme Court.
The ruling also upheld damages against William Dirie, who served as Town of Delaware Supervisor from January 1986 until December 1991.
In its summary, the Judges wrote, In light of the evidence, any claim by the defendants (Bernas and Dirie) that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the awards of $20,251.94 for the value of the services of Harry Fisher, the $12,300 for timber and/or firewood extorted for the benefit of Ray Ferber and the $250,000 for extorted sand and gravel is without merit. There was sufficient evidence to sustain these awards, and weighing that evidence was a matter for the jury.
In essence, Dirie will have to pay DeFalco $32,551.94 in damages, which will be trebled to $97,655.82 under the RICO statute.
DeFalco did lose his cross appeal to have a vacated $1.6 million verdict against four defendants reinstated.
The court ruled, there was simply insufficient credible evidence of any kind
to support the additional $1.6 million award (before trebling).
On February 9, 1999, United States District Judge Charles L. Brieant had vacated the $1.6 million jury award as having no relation to reality.
We won, DeFalco said about the verdict. I have 11 years wrapped up in this.
In upholding earlier decisions by lower courts, the judges also denied DeFalcos appeal to re-enter former Sullivan County Administrator and former Town of Delaware Planning Board Chairman V. Edward Curtis back into the case because of insufficient evidence.
One area resident, who has been following the case since its inception, said, Hopefully, hopefully, it really is the end of this case.