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Harford officials sue developer for defamation in 'Muslim' housing case, blast Gemcraft's bid for court injunction

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and other top officials are suing the builder of a Joppatowne housing development, alleging he defamed them by accusing them of anti-Muslim discrimination.

The complaint is part of a dispute over a townhouse community being built on Trails Way along the Gunpowder River. Many of the prospective buyers are expected to be members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

Last month, builder Gemcraft Homes and OT LLC, a company that owns the lots on Trails Way, filed a federal lawsuit against county leaders and two state lawmakers, alleging the county has illegally blocked progress on the development by refusing to issue permits because there is anti-Muslim sentiment in the community.

Now Glassman and other county officials claim Bill Luther, the CEO of Gemcraft and managing member of OT LLC, knowingly made false statements to the media claiming they are biased against Muslims.

Glassman and three others who were named defendants in the federal lawsuit — Billy Boniface, the county’s director of administration; Melissa Lambert, the county attorney; and Joseph J. Siemek, the county’s public works director — filed the complaint in U.S. District Court. They cite recent comments Luther made to the Washington Post and on The C4 Show on WBAL radio.

County spokeswoman Cindy Mumby said officials would not comment beyond their court filings.

Luther said in a statement he was exercising his freedom of speech.

“In this country, every person has the right to express his or her opinions in response to government action,” Luther said. “I will not be intimidated by the defamation claim. The county should abandon these kinds of tactics and allow the innocent homebuyers to move into their homes.”

A spokesman for Luther said he wasn’t available for an interview.

Gemcraft and OT LLC have sought a preliminary injunction to compel the county to issue permits for development.

On Friday, county officials filed a 32-page response opposing that motion, as well as affidavits from county officials including Glassman.

An attorney for the county said the developer bought the subdivision before investigating what needed to be done to ensure compliance with local regulations.

“After the County informed Plaintiffs of the legal requirements for completing the Development, and Plaintiffs decided they were unable or unwilling to comply with them, Plaintiffs here have cynically lodged baseless accusations of bigotry against the County Defendants to avoid compliance,” Senior Assistant County Attorney Bradley J. Neitzel wrote in the filing.

The county disputed several allegations made by Gemcraft and OT LLC.

For instance, the developers claimed that Glassman brought the development to a halt following a “private conversation” in which state Del. Patrick McDonough cautioned him about the project.

The county called the claim “nonsense.”

Glassman said in an affidavit that he was at the Baltimore County Spring Bash, a GOP event, on May 10 when McDonough “mentioned to me as I passed by, ‘You have a problem brewing in Joppatowne with a housing development.’”

“I did not stop to speak to Delegate McDonough but proceeded into the event,” Glassman said.

Glassman said he took no action as a result of the delegate’s comments, and did not have another exchange with him about the development.

McDonough, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties, told The Baltimore Sun he had a brief conversation with Glassman in which he told the county executive that constituents wanted answers about the development, and that Glassman needed to make sure the project was “in compliance.”

“That was the extent of the conversation,” McDonough said. “[Glassman] didn’t really say anything.”

McDonough said he and other public officials are being accused “in a reckless way of things that never, ever happened.”

“This has been blown out of proportion,” he said.

The developers also alleged that the county sheriff’s office formed a “task force” to investigate the housing development. County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said in an affidavit that no such task force exists.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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