John White’s family has been working its 57—acre oceanfront farm in Sagaponack since 1695, the last holdouts against a tide of Wall Streeter mansions. But in an effort to save his children's inheritance—by selling 10 of those acres to a Houston oil mogul—White may have lost it all.
Michael Shnayerson's story chronicles the battle between the White family and Anthony Petrello, an enormously wealthy and determined man who does not like being told "no." It's a tale of the predatory nature of men like Petrello, who in another article by the Hamptonscurbed.com had offered to "assist John White in estate planning and subdividing other parts of his land." Petrello knew what he was doing by making that offer--stacking the proverbial deck squarely in his future favor.
Land values in that area were sure to skyrocket soon, especially ones with a beachfront like the White farm has.
Petrello also knew that White's intention was to leave the bulk of his remaining 57 acres (minus the 9.6 sold to Petrello) to his descendants after his demise, but White was no match for the savvy and manipulative Petrello who made sure any future land sales had his "first right of refusal" attached to it.
This wasn't the only battle Petrello got into over property he was determined to have by any means necessary. His 900.00/hr lawyer, David Berg, stays quite busy on Petrello's behalf.
In Houston's upscale gated community of Shadyside, Petrello sued his neighbor over a property adjoining his own after being denied purchase of the house on a verbal offer. Petrello stooped down low, despite never signing a contract on the home, and brought suit citing discrimination on disability and fair housing grounds to force his neighbor into selling him the property. Petrello had never mentioned anything about wanting the property for his daughter's medical team (she suffers from CP) until the case saw its day in court.
One pull quote, courtesy of a Houston builder who had a legal dispute with the Petrellos about their historic mansion in Shadyside, describes Petrello as "a modern-day Satan." The photo of a dapper Tony and Cynthia on the grounds of their Houston estate is captioned "Texas Crude."Petrello eventually lost that legal challenge and had to pay a substantial amount to his neighbors, the Prukas, for "unmeritorious and conspiratorial" claims against them:
Based on the Court's estimate that 70% of the time expended in the case was expended on the conspiracy and housing discrimination claims, the Court awards an attorney's fee to the Pruckas on 1,120 hours at the rate of $400 per hour or $448,000. In the event of an appeal by the plaintiff, and the Pruckas prevail, an appellate fee of $60,000 is awarded.Like most obscenely wealthy men, Petrello is dubbed a philanthropist and uses his money to garner points with the society set and the press. Of course we all know that the enormous 'giving' that men like this do serves their own interests first and foremost--they receive glowing press coverage at upscale events and deduct huge tax write-offs for appearing so 'charitable and humanitarian oriented.'
|Anthony and Cynthia Petrello. Photo credit: Jenny Antill|
Powerful men are used to getting what they want. John White has learned that lesson the hard way in his decades-plus fight with Petrello over the White family potato farm that's now worth millions more than it was when the deal was first struck between White and Petrello.
For a simple man who was just trying to keep his farm together, John White bit off Texas sized trouble the day he unknowingly put any stock in the likes of Anthony Petrello, but John White was only doing what he thought was best for his family and his legacy. He's not to blame for being horribly wronged by a petulant and overbearing big oil mogul who did not reveal his true intentions until after the fact.
Still, it's a sad story that didn't have to go the way it did if it weren't for the greed of a man with too much vs a man of gentle spirit and good intentions.
Men like Petrello thrive on outwitting and out-lawyering the average person for a living. They make a sport of getting one over on the other guy in their incessant appetite for more of more. If there's such thing as mercy in the epilogue of the saga of Sagaponack farm, hopefully John White will go to his maker before he lives to see what"'betting the farm" has finally cost him in the end.