Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a failed third-party presidential candidate, FDIC-sanctioned former banker and successful car dealership owner of Mexican-American heritage, alleges in an amended complaint that the board members of a landmark Fifth Avenue building in Manhattan, the Sherry-Netherland, racially discriminated against him when they rejected his $1.275 million bid to buy an apartment.
In his Nov. 28 complaint, De La Fuente names as defendants the co-op’s shareholders and nine co-op board members, including prominent lawyers Mary McInnis Boies of Boies Schiller Flexner (who is married to firm chairman David Boies) and former Jones Day partner Michael Horvitz, as well as Frederic M. Seegal, a high-profile investment banker.
Montieth Illingworth, a spokesman for the board and its members, denied the suit’s claims and said their lawyer, Peter Shapiro of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in New York, would “promptly” be filing a motion to dismiss. An initial complaint in the case was dismissed without prejudice.
“Having previously failed in court with similar claims, Mr. De La Fuente’s final try is also without merit. No plausible claim is stated and there is not a single, well pleaded fact,” Illingworth said in a statement. “The complaint is also needlessly littered with inflammatory, scurrilous language that we believe is beneath the dignity of the court.”
De La Fuente’s lawyer, Frederick Cains of New York, countered that the amended suit includes ”infinitely more fact than was the court’s requirement.” The complaint, which includes eight separate counts, centers on alleged violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York anti-bias laws.
The complaint describes various luxuries provided to residents of the Sherry-Netherland, which also houses the restaurant Cipriani, including twice-daily maid service and elevator attendants wearing white linen gloves. It says the Upper East Side building’s 154 cooperative apartments range in value from $500,000 for servant’s quarters to over $65 million for full-floor layouts. But those apartments, De La Fuente alleges, are “exclusively owned by whites of western European ethnicities who discriminate against those of different races and national origins.”
De La Fuente claims his purchase bid was rejected because the current owners believe ”even the admission of one ‘undesirable’ would create a sense of ‘there goes the neighborhood,’ leading to tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of losses of the collective market value of the 154 apartments.”
By rejecting his proposed purchase, De La Fuente alleges the Sherry-Netherland also undermined his planned bid to run for New York mayor in 2017.
In a Sept. 1 brief, the defendants described De La Fuente as a “disgraced former banker who has been adjudicated as unfit to oversee a bank.” In 2004, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. effectively banned De La Fuente from the banking industry, citing his “misconduct” and “purposeful dishonesty.”
The defendants also called him a “serial litigant who has filed dozens of actions in various federal and state courts.”
The new complaint, meanwhile, says De La Fuente “has never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and has never been fined by a government agency or court for any of his business dealings or personal conduct.” His lawyer said “no money was lost by anyone” at First International Bank in Chula Vista, California, before the FDIC removed him as the bank’s director.
The complaint describes De La Fuente as “an anomalous buyer” because he submitted his bid to the Sherry-Netherland after the then-owner of the targeted apartment filed for Chapter 7. A bankruptcy judge initially determined De La Fuente’s bid was the highest and best offer, the complaint states. He nevertheless provided the board with a “complete package including an accountant’s financial statements, social reference letters, private club membership details, and several magazines in which his photo appeared on the cover of one,” the complaint states.
The board nevertheless rejected his bid without interviewing him, De La Fuente asserts.