Cranberry farmer sued for land preservation sale

The older brother of one of New Jersey's largest cranberry growers has gone to court seeking to stop the sale of nearly 10,000 acres of family farms and pristine woodlands in South Jersey to a preservationist group.

In a lawsuit that outlined a long and bitter financial feud, the brother, Mark A. DeMarco, 72, accused the grower, J. Garfield DeMarco, 64, of mismanaging the family cranberry business, spending corporate funds on himself and improperly trying to sell the family property to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for about 30 percent of its market value.


"Garfield assuming the role of the 'great conservationist' is a joke," Mark DeMarco said in the suit. "He is anything but."

When Garfield DeMarco and the foundation agreed to the sale last October for $12 million, he was praised by environmentalists who in the past feuded with him about his filling in wetlands to grow cranberries. Michele S. Byers, executive director of the foundation, called the transaction both "a once-in-a-lifetime" preservation opportunity and the largest single deal involving conservation of private land in New Jersey history. At the time, the foundation started a $15 million fund-raising campaign to buy the land.


In a statement, Garfield DeMarco, a prominent Republican in Burlington County and former chairman of the Republican county committee there, denied "any and all wrongful conduct" and said he expected the land sale to be upheld.

The land, next to several state-owned forests in the federally protected Pine Barrens, includes 800 acres of blueberry bogs, 300 acres of blueberry fields and thousands of acres of pine and white cedar forests crossed by streams.

In the lawsuit, Mark DeMarco accused his brother of depicting himself as a preservationist to "distract everyone from his gross mismanagement" of the family cranberry business, A.R. DeMarco Enterprises, of Hammonton, N.J.

Mark DeMarco, a semiretired lawyer, also sued his sister, Anna Lynne Papinchak, of Edmonds, Wash. He said that repeatedly over the years, she had privately agreed with his assertions that Garfield DeMarco was using company money for personal expenses and that she had vowed to stop it, but then reversed herself and sided with Garfield DeMarco.

Each of the three siblings owns one-third of the stock in the family business and are the company's only voting directors. Routinely, Mark DeMarco contended, his sister sided with Garfield in board meetings and voted with him to defeat Mark DeMarco's various attempts to restrain his brother's spending.

Mark DeMarco, who said he has been hospitalized since December, asked that he be declared an oppressed minority stockholder entitled to protection under New Jersey law. The relief he seeks includes the ouster of Garfield DeMarco as chairman, president and chief executive of the company and the removal of its accountants for what Mark DeMarco said was their failure to complete audits of the company books.

Mark DeMarco contended that his brother had spent tens of thousands of dollars in company funds for personal expenses, including $67,000 for "lavish meals" at a restaurant in Hammonton and $40,000 for limousine service unrelated to company business. He also said the company owed the Internal Revenue Service about $2.5 million in unpaid taxes, fines and penalties.

The lawsuit also said that the Conservation Foundation had not exercised its option to buy the family land by the deadline of March 31. In addition, it argued that extensions on the option that Garfield DeMarco signed on Jan. 28 andApril 24, were null and void because they were granted secretly, without a board vote.


The foundation, the suit argued, had lost its chance to obtain the land, and the family was legally entitled to seek more money for the property from another buyer.

"My brother and sister have an absolute fiduciary obligation to obtain as high a sales price as they can, not give it away to hide Garfield's wasting of corporate assets and mismanagement," Mark DeMarco said in the suit.