Two sons of the late real estate mogul Nathan Serota have filed suit against Lighthouse Realty Partners, alleging executives at that firm conspired with his second wife to obtain the right to manage their father’s multi-million dollar real estate empire before he died. In an April 5 lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Charles and Geoffrey Serota allege that Joseph Scimone, the CFO at Valley Stream, N.Y.-based Lighthouse, conspired with their father’s second wife, Vivian Serota, and other Lighthouse officials to obtain the property management rights from the wheelchair-bound founder, just three weeks before his death in 2010.
“Serota could not comprehend and handle interactions with others and could not comprehend events taking place around him,” attorney John Moscow, representing Serota’s sons, wrote in the complaint, adding in another section of the suit that Serota “was unable to understand a one-page telephone bill when it was read to him.”
Serota was considered one of the most successful — and controversial — real estate developers in Long Island for nearly the last half century. Born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 1920, Serota served in the U.S. Army in World War II before founding Nathan L. Serota Properties in 1952. The company has developed Islip Pines, a proposed project in Islip, NY; Brooktown Plaza, a project in Stonybrook, N.Y. and Riverhead Commons, in Riverhead, N.Y., according to their website.
The firm started out as a major home builder and over the years developed more than 5 million square feet of commercial space in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island. The company has built more than 50 shopping centers and commercial properties over the years, generating $50 million in rents per year.
In 1975, Serota was convicted of accepting a bribe while he was vice chairman of the Fort Lee, N.J., parking authority. That conviction was later overturned on appeal.
The suit alleges that Serota began losing his eyesight in 2001 and was diagnosed with several ailments ranging from heart disease to shingles and cancer in the few years before he died, according to the suit.
The suit claims that Serota had rejected a draft agreement to take over management of his companies in 2003. By 2009, an operating company was established to run the firm after attorney Michael Cassidy, a defendant in the suit, allegedly suggested the company be formed. Cassidy expressed concerns about Serota signing any documents because he was not able to understand what he was signing according to the suit.
The suit alleges that in April 2010, Scimone, Cassidy and Vivian’s son Daniel, who was not named as a defendant, were present when the elder Serota signed the 29-page agreement. The deal allegedly gives Scimone a 6 percent fee to manage the properties and allows him to deduct business expenses related to his role. The suit alleges that Scimone has a conflict of interest because he was not only CFO of the companies, but was the executor of Serota’s will and the trustee over various trusts set up since Serota’s death.
But the suit alleges that in a related case in New York County Surrogate Court, a notorized page states that Serota appeared before Cassidy in Nassau County and signed the deal there, while Cassidy allegedly swore in an affidavit that the deal was signed at Serota’s New York apartment.
The suit alleges that Vivian, Serota’s widow, who lives in that same apartment at 895 Park Avenue, got an indirect benefit from the deal because Daniel was a project manager at Lighthouse.
Lighthouse officials declined to comment. Moscow declined to comment other than to confirm the suit was filed.