Brooklyn developer sues Daily News for calling him “land shark”

Yuval Golan is seeking $310M from tabloid

The News Building (Google Maps, iStock)
The News Building (Google Maps, iStock)

What, exactly, is a “land shark?” Brooklyn developer Yuval Golan claims the New York Daily News called him a criminal by slapping that label on him.

In a defamation lawsuit against the tabloid filed Wednesday, Golan is seeking $310 million in damages for a front-page story on him in October, which included a photo that he says was “retouched so as to give him a sinister appearance.”

“The term ‘land shark’ reasonably implies that [Golan] is a criminal who has committed fraud and theft, or stolen people’s lands and real property by fraud and artifice,” the lawsuit states. Golan has been sued but not charged with any crimes for his allegedly low-ball purchases of Brooklyn homes.

Merriam-Webster defines a land shark as “a swindler of sailors on shore” or a “land-grabber” — with “land grab” defined as a “usually swift acquisition of property (such as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force.”

The Daily News article, which remains on its website, described Golan as a figure “alternately lionized as the borough’s ‘savviest’ businessman — or denounced as a fraudster duping vulnerable New Yorkers out of suddenly valuable properties.”

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“The 44-year-old Golan has often targeted vulnerable elderly people, persuading them to sign contracts without a lawyer while offering obscenely low prices for high-priced homes,” the paper wrote, citing court records and interviews with the Great Neck resident’s accusers.

But Golan says the buyers were of sound mind and acted on their own free will, and courts in civil lawsuits have ruled some of the contracts were valid. The Daily News article does disclose those rulings.

The real estate investor also disputes the characterization that he preys on the elderly, noting that four of the accusers were 30, 40, 49 and 64 years old when they agreed to sell interests in their homes to him, and seemed to be in possession of their faculties. He argues that some of the prices he paid were fair, and if any were bargains, that just means he is a smart businessman.

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One accuser quoted in the story, Ellen Harris, joined her brother in suing Golan to keep their Boerum Hill home, according to the publication.

“Yuval tricks people,” Harris told the News. “If you’re vulnerable in any way he’ll attack you on that level. He comes off as very nice but he’s sneaky.”

Golan’s lawsuit alleges that the article’s inclusion of a picture of Harris using a walker was a “deliberate act intended to make [Golan] look bad” and that she did not sell her share of the home, nor did she use a walker when Golan met her.

The suit also claims that when Golan purchased the house in 2014, it was worth approximately what he paid for it and “was essentially a shell home, burdened with liens and many violations.”

Golan contends that he is a private individual, not a public figure, thus limiting the burden of proof required for a plaintiff in a defamation case. He was once an investor in 227 Duffield Street, which was the subject of controversy when a development effort was stymied by advocates who said it was part of the Underground Railroad.

Golan justifies his request for $310 million by saying the News story has devastated his personal life and career. The article might have been viewed “millions of times,” his suit claims, and led to a negative story about him in an Israeli newspaper.

The suit disputes several other claims in the article. While the Daily News article stated that he has been sued at least five times since 2005 for taking advantage of sellers, Golan claims he has been sued just twice — and won those cases.

The Daily News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.