Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Betting the Farm: Vanity Fair Magazine

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.
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  1. What a greedy sob!
    Typical of most uber rich types.
    I got mine and I want yours and yours and yours too.

  2. "I am going to bury him in paperwork"

    That's real humanitarian of Petrello isn't it? He must have some big influence in the court system up there to keep draining the White's of money.
    I would think even a judge who was deaf, dumb and blind would be able to see that Petrello is using the legal system to empty the White family of money to fight.

  3. Well it sounds like Petrello will be in like minded company with all the Wall St. thugs nearby.
    I am pulling for the White's to prevail despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

  4. VF has some very talented writers and it's refreshing to see one that for all intents and purposes sides with the little guy.
    I can't blame Petrello for wanting a deal, but his methods leave much to be desired and lend themselves to a big shot throwing around his considerable monetary weight.
    I call foul on using the legal system for manipulative purposes.

  5. SAG Harbor online has more on this compelling story.
    ".....according to lawyer Nica Strunk who is representing Petrello, “Meighan’s Cottage” lacks enough historical significance to be saved. Not only that, it presents major health hazards.
    And while she gave in great detail her reasons for the property’s demolition, she began her case by addressing the board on a more personal matter.
    “Before I begin talking about the legal issues, I wanted to explain a serious concern that we have as attorneys for the applicants,” Strunk detailed. “We’re worried that this meeting today really has less to do with the fact that there is a 585 square-foot building on this property and more with the people who are involved in this matter.”
    She noted that local publications — not to mention the Vanity Fair piece — have outlined the personal dispute that’s welled up between Anthony and Cynthia Petrello and the White family. Strunk urged the board not to weigh its decision on White’s good reputation in the community — his family has farmed the same land since the end of the 17th century — but rather to “treat Anthony and Cynthia Petrello the way you would treat every other member of this village.”
    Strunk criticized the board for calling a public hearing on this matter, when similar issues in the past did not warrant additional public discussions. Later, AHRB President Ann Sanford would defend the board’s decision, explaining that the public hearing was voted on unanimously by the board.
    “It has been our practice [to call a public hearing] if one or more residents step forward,” she said. “That was a signal to me that this was an important issue for the community.”
    Strunk continued, “Local gossip and inflammatory articles in Dan’s Papers could have a negative impact on the members of this village. It is imperative that [these issues] do not affect this board.”
    What's that old saying about birds of a feather? Petrello looks to have some real vultures for legal representatives.


  6. Bully tactics in Houston and New York.
    Who's being influenced behind the scenes in both cities to do Mr. Petrello's bidding?
    I found a site that has interesting comments on the Pruka story. Will the same thing happen in Sagaponack? The city must be drooling at the prospect of increased property taxes.

    Live Oaks

  7. He's a frickin' lawyer himself!
    No doubt what he was up to with John White deal!


    Texas knows what AP is made of: G-R-E-E-D

  8. Great article!

  9. How very sad that the rich and powerful prey on the average Joe, or John in this case, as if they are not a human being, but a commodity to be exploited and then discarded like a rag.
    It's simply revolting and heartless beyond belief.


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