By Briana Vannozzi
Eigthy-five-year-old small business owner Russell Graddy calls it a case of David and Goliath. He claims New Jersey Transit owes him more than $1 million. And says they reneged on a now decades-old promise to let him build a restaurant in a new Atlantic City bus terminal owned by the agency.
“We are not here to re-litigate anything that happened in the courts, but make him, just make him whole again,” said Stan Matthews, consultant for Graddy.
In the early ’90s, Graddy owned a souvenir and snack shop in the old Atlantic City bus terminal. He says he spent over $1 million in equipment and renovations at his shop. He had a 20-year lease, but a few years in, Graddy says NJ Transit promised to relocate him in a new terminal it was building and pay for lost business and transition costs. But that construction fell through.
“I put all of my investment into their building and they promised me 20 years to recoup my investment and hopefully make a profit. After seven years they tricked and railroaded me out of my property and promised me they would restore it and they did not do that,” Graddy said.
Graddy turned over his keys and equipment and says he continued to pay rent on his leased space, even though he couldn’t use it. Years later when the new terminal was complete, he claims NJ Transit pulled back on their offer and didn’t have space for him in the new building.
“They put all of his equipment, stripped it to the wall and put it in a storage unit that he did not have access to for 13 years. On this day, still, NJ Transit is not aware of where his equipment or investment is,” Matthews said.
Ten years ago an independent arbitrator recommended NJ Transit pay Graddy $1.3 million for his investment, expenses and damages. Then a state superior court judge ruled it wasn’t NJ Transit’s responsibility because Graddy’s agreement was with the Atlantic City Alliance and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
“I didn’t have an agreement with the Reinvestment Authority, my agreement was with NJ Transit. That’s a diversion. I didn’t have any agreement with anybody else but NJ Transit Corporation,” Graddy said.
And it gets a little more complicated. In 2007, Graddy did enter an agreement with NJ Transit to be paid $183,000, but never executed it because he says he was misadvised by his lawyers. NJ Transit confirmed the amount of that previous settlement, but would only go on record saying, “On the advice of counsel, we decline to comment.”
Graddy and his group claim this is a case of racial discrimination and plan to attend tomorrow’s NJ Transit board meeting for a call to action.