They were the closest of friends until a real estate deal came between longtime Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and City Clerk Sergio Cornelio. Now, they’re suing each other, with Cornelio alleging that DeMaria pressured him to pay $97,000 from the sale of a property.
DeMaria calls Cornelio’s story a “complete fabrication,” designed to hurt him in the run-up to the Nov. 2 election. Earlier this month, he sued Cornelio and a local newspaper, the Everett Leader Herald, which originally published Cornelio’s allegations on Sept. 8.
Now, Cornelio is fighting back, filing a countersuit Friday against DeMaria, alleging the mayor muscled his way into a deal to buy and redevelop a property in 2019. Cornelio said he was forced by the mayor to pay him even though DeMaria did not put any money into the project or had no involvement in its planned redevelopment.
After Cornelio’s charges became public, his lawsuit says, the mayor retaliated by trying to get Cornelio fired. The city clerk works for the City Council rather than the mayor, but Cornelio said DeMaria convinced his cousin City Councilor Anthony DiPierro to lobby other councilors to fire Cornelio. He also charged that DeMaria sent police to search his office to investigate alleged “voter fraud.”
“Mayor DeMaria abused his position to coerce Mr. Cornelio and extract payment from him in violation of civil and constitutional law,” said his lawyer, John Tocci.
“The mayor’s decision to sue Mr. Cornelio was based upon a misplaced belief that Mr. Cornelio would cower,” Tocci said. “Instead, he placed Mr. Cornelio in the position [of] fighting for his reputation and for his family and Mr. Cornelio is ready for that fight.”
Joseph Lipchitz, DeMaria’s lawyer, called Cornelio’s allegations “just plain false” and said, “We look forward to placing Mr. Cornelio under oath, to put it mildly.”
DeMaria, who has been in office since 2008, is known for playing a lead role in attracting to Everett the Encore Boston Harbor casino, which has become a major local employer and taxpayer. He has also been embroiled in controversy. In 2014, the Globe reported that several women said they had been subjected to unwanted advances by the mayor.
He has survived, but some observers say this latest controversy could hurt him in Tuesday’s election.
DeMaria beat out two opponents in the September primary — but together his rivals won 54 percent of the vote.
City Councilor Fred Capone, DeMaria’s November challenger, is hoping this term is DeMaria’s last.
“We have got a desperate need for change in the city,” said Capone. “Our mayor has been in office for 14 years and he’s forgotten the purpose of the job. He’s gone from public service to self service.”
He said it would be “improper” for a mayor to develop property with a city employee, especially the site Cornelio was focused on. The house is right next to land the city is trying to develop.
“It raises a ton of red flags,” Capone said.
DeMaria and Cornelio agree that in 2019 they intended to be partners in a plan to develop a property at 43 Corey St. What happened after that is a matter of bitter dispute.
DeMaria said he helped arrange financing to purchase the 200-year-old house, which was to be developed into a multi-unit project, for $900,000.
He said he got a state ethics commission opinion saying it was OK for him to be involved, even though the project would need approvals from several city departments. It was also located next to an urban renewal project being funded and developed by the city.
After two years, DeMaria said, Cornelio decided he wanted to sell the property instead of developing it. DeMaria said he wanted to stick with it, but nonetheless brought a buyer to Cornelio.
Under their agreement, DeMaria said, he was entitled to 45 percent of the proceeds of any sale.
Cornelio has a completely different take. He said he bought and financed the property himself on Aug. 22, 2019 — without any contribution from DeMaria. He made the down payment, secured the financing, and paid all expenses.
DeMaria, Cornelio’s suit says, was not involved in the purchase of the property or any development decisions. He “abandoned” the project, Cornelio said.
“DeMaria wanted a piece of the project anyway,” Cornelio said. After Cornelio partnered with someone else, DeMaria pressured the other partner to back out, his suit says.
Eventually, Cornelio’s suit says, the cost of paying for the Corey Street property left him “financially drained,” and, in February 2021, he met with DeMaria and other former and current Everett elected officials at a Medford restaurant.
Cornelio said he just wanted to sell the house. Initially, Cornelio said, he “reluctantly” offered DeMaria 30 percent of the profit from a sale, but that DeMaria responded by calling the offer “insulting,” the city clerk’s lawsuit says.
Under pressure, Cornelio said, he eventually “agreed to appease DeMaria by giving him 45 percent of the profits to which Cornelio firmly maintained DeMaria was not entitled.”
They signed an agreement, with Cornelio to be repaid his investment in the house and 55 percent of the profits, and DeMaria getting get 45 percent, which amounted to around $97,000.
A potential buyer offered $1.25 million for the house, but DeMaria allegedly insisted the house be sold to a friend of his, James Grossman, who eventually offered $1.3 million.
The house was sold in April 2021. Cornelio received approximately $315,000 of the proceeds from the sale.
Since Cornelio’s allegations became public, he has been harassed and threatened, the suit says.
“He has developed grave concerns, with good reason, that his reappointment as Clerk is in jeopardy due to the threats by DeMaria and his allies,” Cornelio’s lawsuit alleges.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.