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This block of houses was under construction on Trails Way in Joppatowne in late August. Local residents have been trying to get more information from Harford County about a development meant for members of a Muslim group.
This block of houses was under construction on Trails Way in Joppatowne in late August. Local residents have been trying to get more information from Harford County about a development meant for members of a Muslim group. (David Anderson, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harford County, the defendant in lawsuit filed in federal court by the builder of a controversial 48-lot subdivision in Joppatowne, has filed suit against the builder alleging he has made defamatory statements against the county.

The complaint against Bill Luther Jr., president and CEO of Gemcraft Homes Inc., of Forest Hill, was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, according to a copy of the three-page complaint provided by a spokesperson for Luther.

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“I haven’t seen it,” Luther said of the complaint. “I’d heard that it’s coming.”

Luther said he would be glad to comment once he is served. His company is building townhouses along Trails Way, and the homebuyers include members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect. That has generated community concerns it would be a Muslim-only subdivision.

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Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for the county government, confirmed Thursday that the county had filed the defamation complaint, but she declined to comment further.

Luther’s company, along with the entity that owns the lots, OT LLC, of Forest Hill, filed a lawsuit against the county in the U.S. District Court for Maryland in late September regarding what it calls the county’s “unlawful efforts” to prevent Gemcraft from building and selling the townhouses.

Luther himself is not listed as a plaintiff. He is the managing member of OT LLC as well as president of Gemcraft.

The county will file its response to Gemcraft and OT’s injunction Friday, Mumby said.

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The defamation complaint was filed by County Executive Barry Glassman, Director of Administration Billy Boniface, County Attorney Melissa Lambert and Joseph Siemek, director of public works, according to the copy provided by Luther’s spokesperson.

The four plaintiffs are each seeking $1 million in damages, “plus interest and costs,” according to the complaint.

They are defendants in the lawsuit filed by Gemcraft, along with the county government and Republican Dels. Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough, whose district includes Joppatowne.

The delegates have hosted community meetings regarding residents’ concerns about the proposed subdivision.

The community, called the Ansar Housing Complex and billed as a “mini-peace village” for elderly members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, has generated controversy among residents and elected officials who serve Joppa. They have expressed fears that the dwellings would be sold to Muslims only and expressed frustration over a lack of information from the county, which oversees permitting and approvals for the project.

County officials have said construction is on hold until issues over stormwater management and infrastructure can be resolved with the builder, but they have no say in who can buy the houses.

Luther has made statements in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. news outlets accusing the county of discrimination against Muslims.

He suggested the anti-Islamic sentiment could be fueling the county’s denial of building and use and occupancy permits.

Concerns about bowing to anti-Muslim sentiment are in Gemcraft and OT’s lawsuit, too.

“Motivated by and in direct response to anti-Islamic sentiments expressed by certain public officials and certain members of the community, and without any lawful basis, Harford County has refused to issue building permits to the plaintiffs,” according to the suit.

Mumby declined to say whether the defamation complaint is part of the larger legal process, citing the ongoing litigation.

The complaint indicates Glassman, Boniface, Lambert and Siemek are defendants in OT, LLC et al. vs. Harford County, Maryland, et al. They are listed as “third-party plaintiffs” in the complaint, and Luther is listed as a “third-party defendant.”

The complaint highlights comments Luther made, accusing the county of “discrimination” while a guest on the WBAL-AM radio program “The C4 Show” on Oct. 19 and in a Washington Post story published Tuesday.

“Mr. Luther made these false statements with actual malice, in that he knew or should have known that the statements were false,” according to the complaint.

The defendants live and work in Harford County, and Harford residents are among the audience for the newspaper and radio show, according to the complaint.

“As a result of these false and defamatory statements published by Mr. Luther, the character and reputation of Third-Party Plaintiffs were harmed, and their standing and reputation in the community were impaired,” according to the complaint.

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