Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg (Brian Solis)

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg are fighting a lawsuit alleging he scammed a real-estate developer out of a multimillion-dollar property behind his home in an upscale Palo Alto neighborhood.

Plaintiff Mircea Voskerician, who buys and rebuilds old Bay Area homes, alleges he sold Zuckerberg his right to a property at a huge discount in 2012 because Zuckerberg promised to introduce him to Silicon Valley’s power players. Zuckerberg never followed through, nor did he intend to, plaintiffs attorneys allege, which they say is “despicable.”

Now Voskerician wants the house back, as well as potentially millions in damages, according to the fraud and breach-of-contract complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Friday.

Zuckerberg’s attorneys have brushed off the suit as meritless.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit, pure and simple,” said Cooley partner Patrick Gunn, representing Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg made headlines when he bought the $4.8 million home in question, and then three others, that surrounded his residence in the Crescent Park neighborhood of Palo Alto. He told the public he bought the properties because he’d heard a developer was going to build a huge house behind his and use the Facebook billionaire neighbor as a selling point.

But that developer has a different story.

Voskerician claims he found out about his famous neighbor by chance—his real estate agent happened to mention Zuckerberg while they were taking measurements of the property, according to the complaint filed by Douglas Hughmanick, head of litigation at Terra Law in San Jose. At that point Voskerician had made an offer on the property—which was accepted—and paid a deposit, but he hadn’t closed.

In late 2012, Zuckerberg offered to buy Voskerician’s rights to the property. He told Voskerician he wanted to ensure his privacy and avoid construction in his backyard for 14 months, according to the complaint.

“Zuckerberg stated that he built Facebook on relationships and connections and that in exchange for a discount, he, Zuckerberg, would introduce Voskerician to his friends, clients and associates and promote Voskerician’s real estate business,” the complaint states.

Voskerician alleges he had a $4.3 million offer for his interest in the property, but instead he accepted Zuckerberg’s $1.7 million offer in hopes of networking with the elite of Facebook, Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

But when Voskerician tried to cash in on those meetings—even stopping by Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters—Zuckerberg didn’t respond, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff’s attorneys in the complaint say Zuckerberg’s actions amount to “despicable conduct that subjected Voskerician to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious and reckless disregard of Voskerician’s rights.”

Hughmanick declined to comment Wednesday.

Zuckerberg’s Cooley defense team, which includes partner Michael Rhodes and associate Nathaniel Cooper in addition to Gunn, deny Zuckerberg made networking promises to Voskerician.

In a letter to Hughmanick, Gunn wrote, “the facts stated in your letter and draft complaint are so distorted as to be unrecognizable to our clients.”

In reality, Zuckerberg paid Voskerician $1.7 million for his interest in the property, refunded him his $129,000 deposit and then paid $4.8 million to the homeowner to purchase the home, the defense team says.

“Voskerician was in contract on this place for a matter of weeks and was able to parlay that into a $1.7 million payday,” Gunn said. “So he’s now back for more.”

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