Kevin Johnson, the Black real estate developer behind Team85 Fitness and Wellness, filed a lawsuit against Bordentown Township and five current and former municipal officials Sept. 9, citing racial discrimination. The suit, first published by the New Jersey Law Journal, claims Johnson has been “locked in a never-ending battle to develop his property on reasonable terms” for the last several years.
Johnson is suing the township, plus former township clerk and co-administrator Colleen Eckert, former interim township administrator George Haeuber, former township CFO and co-administrator David Kocian, current township administrator Michael Theokas and former police chief and co-administrator Frank Nucera.
Nucera was arrested and charged in November 2017 with committing a hate crime and violating a man’s civil rights by using excessive force during an arrest. He was indicted one month later. Nucera quietly retired earlier that year while under FBI investigation.
Bordentown Township Police Department officers recorded the former chief making racist comments, including comparing black people to ISIS, using racial slurs and claiming to use police dogs with the intent to intimidate. The suit claims that Nucera’s racist beliefs, coupled with his influence in the township, led to Johnson being targeted.
In the suit, Johnson accuses the township of intentionally delaying project approvals, violating signed agreements, intentional exclusion from development discussions and making accommodations for white developers and not Johnson during the same approval periods. The suit also claims that Johnson was held to tighter restrictions than his peers, specifically with affordable housing requirements.
“While other sites only required 10-15% of the units to be affordable, Mr. Johnson was forced to include 25% affordable units, which had the consequence of making the project almost unaffordable to build,” the suit says.
All of this, according to the suit, was predicated on Johnson’s race.
The suit calls Nucera and Eckert “irredeemable racists,” alleging the two referred to Johnson using a racial slur. It also claims that Nucera pressured officers to avoid using Team85 gym services.
Eckert told FBI agents in a March 2017 interview regarding the initial Nucera investigation that she and the former chief, who she called “a mentor” to her, used racial slurs together, including the n-word. In the interview, Eckert specifically referenced a “local real estate developer”—the name, along with other identifying characteristics, was redacted.
“Eckert recalled an occasion when [redacted] came into the township building after hours. Eckert stated, ‘We’d (Eckert and Chief Nucera) be like, oh, that n-g,’ in response to seeing [redacted],” according to the documents. Nucera also felt that that developer, who Eckert called “shady,” was “working an angle.”
Because of this, Johnson’s suit says that “the disparate treatment received by a developer trying to vastly improve the amenities available to the residents of the township must, at least in part, be attributed to Nucera’s and Eckert’s now-known racial animus.”