Start of fraud trial gets pushed back

By Jon Campisi | Jun 14, 2011

The start of a fraud trial was halted June 13 after two remaining defendants showed up to court without attorney representation.

The case of Gonzales et al v. Zimmer et al pits Ashley Gonzales and Ivan Rios against two men who sold the plaintiffs a piece of city property that the plaintiffs had planned to rent out as residences, but that ended up being zoned for other uses.

On Monday, defendants Henry Tenden and Heraldo Siahaan were unprepared to move forward, saying they had thought the case had been resolved at arbitration.

According to court documents, an arbitration hearing that took place on Oct. 21, 2010 found in favor of the plaintiffs, recommending a judgment of $50,000. However, on Nov. 19 of that year, the plaintiffs appealed the award and instead demanded a jury trial.

In City Hall courtroom 650 Monday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer scheduled a status conference for the following Monday, June 20, at which time a trial date will be set.

The judge urged the two defendants to obtain legal representation by that time so the proceedings could move forward.

Glazer appeared somewhat annoyed that while the two defendants were aware of the ongoing legal action against them, they failed to have attorney representation.

He urged the two to get lawyers, so the case doesn’t get dragged out “for another two years.”

Attorney Laurence A. Mester, of the Grossman Law Firm, P.C., first filed the fraud civil complaint on behalf of Gonzales and Rios on Aug. 7, 2009.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs had bought a piece of property at 2853-55 Kensington Ave. with the intent of renting it out as living quarters.

Both sides entered into a sale agreement on Aug. 8, 2007, the lawsuit states. The purchase price was $160,000. The plaintiffs secured a loan in the amount of $135,000 to finance the purchase.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs subsequently learned that the only legal use for the property was for office and meeting space for an alcohol and drug recovery center. The plaintiffs, however, were told by one of the real estate agents working for the defendants that the property was zoned for multi-family use.

That real estate agent, Lynda Zimmer, was originally named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, as was real estate agent Sean Conroy, and ReMax Affiliates Northeast Inc., later replaced by successor defendant Homes 4 All, LLC.

On Dec. 30, 2009, according to the court docket sheet, the counts against the real estate agents in the complaint was dismissed. In their preliminary objects, lawyers for the agents had argued legal insufficiency, since the plaintiffs purchased a property as an “investment,” meaning the transaction was a commercial endeavor, and therefore not subject to the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices Act Consumer Protection Law.

There was also a statute of limitations objection raised by the defendants.

Nevertheless, the case went on against the two property sellers.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs had initially visited the property they sought to purchase, confirming what they believed to be a residential use. It wasn’t until later that a certification statement from the city to ReMax showed the only legal use for the property was for drug and alcohol recovery meeting space.

The lawsuit contended that the defendants should have been aware of the fact that the property was not zoned for residential use.

The plaintiffs went on to incur costs to correct outstanding code violations on the property, and lost the right to collect rents from tenants because the city wouldn’t issue them a landlord’s license, the complaint states.

The lawsuit contained counts of fraud, civil conspiracy and negligence.

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