Mount Prospect restaurant owner, Tod Curtis, owner of Ye Olde Town Inn, has run the pizzeria for more than 40 years, and he recently settled his lawsuit against the village of Mount Prospect and Oz Development LLC for $6.5 million.[i] Curtis sued the village and development company, alleging the group worked together in an organized fashion to push him and his business out of his long-established location. He sued in state and in federal court under a variety of legal theories including claims that the village and developers engaged in federal civil racketeering. Specifically, the case alleged violations of the RICO (“Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations”) Act; notably used in the investigation of mob activity and crimes in Chicago during Operation Family Values, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
This is a case of developers working with town officials in an attempt to strong-arm Mr. Curtis.
In an legal decision and order by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Curtis v. Wilks, the facts are set forth and the scene is set, describing how the defendant developer and the village seemed to have it in for Curtis and wanted his property condemned to make way for an entertainment district. Defendant, Oz Development built a blues bar next to Curits’ pizzeria, causing damage to his building. The village sought to condemn the pizzeria to build a private road to access a new condominium building. The village also made inspections on multiple occasions seeking to ultimately condemn the pizzeria. At one point, Curtis tried to join in the new development process and at one point suggested redevelopment of his own property, and none of it went forward. At issue in the lawsuit was whether the defendant, Oz Development acted in concert with the village to effectively run Curits out of town, relying in large part on the RICO Act to win his case.
The U.S. federal law, RICO, provides extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Specifically, RICO is focused on racketeering, where an organization of individuals are ordered to act or assist others in the furtherance of an agreement to take certain actions. RICO is most often used to investigate and prosecute organized crime operations. It is not every day that a RICO claim is litigated against a local municipality and development company.
RICO is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c):
“It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.”
In order to establish a RICO claim under section 1962(c), a plaintiff must show “(1) conduct (2) of an enterprise (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering activity.” Sedima S.P.R.L. v. Imrex Co., 473 U.S. 479, 496 (1985)[ii]. A RICO plaintiff must who at least two predicate acts and “that the racketeering predicates are related, and that they amount to or pose a threat of continued criminal activity.” H.J. Inc. v. Nw. Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 239 (1989)[iii].
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, denied certain parts of Curtis’ complaint, in part citing legal analysis regarding the use of RICO against municipalities, which was disallowed. The case proceeded on RICO and additional claims against Oz Development and Errol Oztekin, its owner.[iv]
Ultimately, a settlement was reached for $6.5 million, $2 million of which would go towards attorneys fees and legal costs. The village of Mount Prospect agreed to pay $439,002 and an insurer will cover the rest, according to the agreement as stated in the press.[v]
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[i] Chicago Tribune, Pizzeria owner wins millions in unusual lawsuit against village, by Dan Hinkel, Aug. 7, 2014.
[v] See Chicago Tribune article (HNi)