LIHUE — Several people with ancestral claims to the disputed land parcels on Mark Zuckerberg’s 700-acre North Shore estate are accusing a corporation controlled by the Facebook CEO of using deceitful, high-pressure sales tactics while attempting to convince them to sell their families’ shares in the land.
Attorneys from firms in Honolulu and Lihue submitted a motion last week supported in part by previously unheard testimony, claiming Zuckerberg’s ownership shares in the kuleana lots scheduled to be auctioned off Friday are “tainted by invalid transfers of title” and were acquired through “misrepresentations and threats.”
Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe allowed testimony from Teri Ferreira-Ige, one of the hundreds of Rapozo descendants named as defendants in the quiet title suit, stating that representatives of Northshore Kalo, LLC, a Zuckerberg-controlled corporation, contacted her in an attempt to purchase her fractional shares of the land in December 2016, just weeks before the quiet title suit was filed.
Philip Leas, a partner with Cades Schutte, the Honolulu firm representing Northshore Kalo in the quiet title suit, called the accusations baseless and illogical.
“Those allegations were made by individuals who chose not to sell their shares, which is their right, so the logic that they were misled does not ring true,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.
Leas was named specifically in the newly-submitted testimonies as the Northshore Kalo representative who primarily interacted with the kuleana shareholders.
In her sworn testimony, Ferreira-Ige said lawyers acting on behalf of Northshore Kalo first misrepresented the ownership and nature of the company and later threatened to subject her to a “long and expensive legal process” that could leave her liable for decades worth of back property taxes on the kuleana lots.
Ferreira-Ige’s testimony concludes with a reference to “other family members who have experienced similar threats from Northshore Kalo,” but prior to the motion filed last week, no statements had been filed by other defendants corroborating her allegations.
During a hearing in October 2018, Watanabe denied a Rapozo descendent’s request to present a verbal argument, criticized the defendants “for not obtaining more declarations to support their position,” and said the two testimonies that had been submitted were “conclusory, speculative and self-serving,” according to court documents.
Watanabe said the partial kuleana landowners were unable to produce “even a scintilla of evidence” in support of their argument to dismiss the quiet title lawsuit and ordered a public auction of the land parcels. Now, armed with additional testimony and more detailed allegations about the conduct of Zuckerberg and Northshore Kalo, atttorney Laurel Loo and her clients are asking Watanabe to reconsider that decision.
In a sworn declaration signed three weeks after the October hearing, Shannon Buckner — owner of a few hundredths of a percent of the kuleana parcels — said she was contacted multiple times in January 2017, via phone, email and text message by a lawyer for Northshore Kalo who asked her, “How would you feel about receiving money for land you never knew you owned?”
Buckner said the attorney told her Northshore Kalo would pay $400 for her interest in the property, later upping the price to $500 and threatening to pursue litigation that would force her to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” after she expressed hesitation about selling.
According to Buckner’s statement, Northshore Kalo’s lawyer told her the company he represented was a “locally owned poi farm.” Buckner said when she “expressed surprise” that she hadn’t heard of the company before, the attorney explained his client was not well known because the company was still in the beginning stages.
At some point in the midst of these negotiations, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser broke the news that Northshore Kalo was actually a shell corporation controlled by Zuckerberg, according to Buckner, who said she called the Northshore Kalo representative almost immediately to call off the deal.
“I asked Northshore Kalo’s counsel why he had lied to me about the nature of the company,” Buckner wrote in her statement. “He admitted that what he had said was not true but explained that he had been instructed not to give me the correct information about the prospective purchaser.”
Three members of another family also submitted testimony about their interaction with the Northshore Kalo attorney in November 2016.
“My wife and I thought it was a scam,” Thomas Jose said in his statement, explaining that he was contacted first but passed the voicemail messages onto his nephew, Jason Jose, who took up the matter on his family members’ behalf.
According to Jason Jose, the attorney asked for specific details about his family’s lineage and relationships but declined to answer questions about the land or the client making the offer.
Jose’s statement says the attorney “did not identify the officers of Northshore Kalo or explain Mark Zuckerberg’s involvement,” and refused to provide any details concerning the land parcels, saying that his client “spent a lot of money obtaining that information and that he would not share it.”
The Northshore Kalo representative first offered to pay $700 to each of the family members who had a stake in the kuleana lots but called back a few days later to reduce the offer to $650, “due to additional information his client had obtained” regarding the parcels’ other co-owners, according to Jose.
In response to a request for more time to look into the matter, Jose claims the attorney threatened to take the matter to court, explaining that they could be liable for “millions of dollars” in legal fees if they were to defend against the quiet title lawsuit and might end up on the hook for decades of unpaid property taxes associated with the land parcels.
Even after negotiations stalled over the phone, the Zuckerberg-controlled corporation aggressively continued its pursuit of the family’s tiny fractions of land, according to Thomas Jose’s declaration.
“Northshore Kalo’s counsel then sent a notary to our house in Idaho with a written offer of sale for my interest in the parcels,” Thomas Jose wrote. “We were not expecting the notary.”
Once again Jose refused to sell, but he claims the ordeal still wasn’t over. Jose’s statement says the notary reported his refusal to the Northshore Kalo attorney, who then “called me and spoke to me angrily and aggressively.”
“He claimed we had gone back on our agreement to sell our interest and proceeded to put additional pressure on me to sign the offer of sale, since they had sent a notary all that way,” he wrote.
Jose still was not convinced to sell, but he says the notary’s trip to Idaho wasn’t wasted. The offer of sale contained the information about the land that Jose and his family had previously been unable to track down — information Jose says the Northshore Kalo representative refused to give up.
According to Jose’s statement, he and his nephew “conducted additional research” based on the property tax identification numbers they found in the offer and, eventually, “we discovered Mark Zuckerberg’s involvement in the case.”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.