The previous owners of Horizon Farms have sued a local bank and others, disputing the legality of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's purchase of the nearly 400-acre Barrington Hills equestrian estate, and alleging the forest preserve paid almost double the appraisal price.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Meryl Squires Cannon and Richard Kirk Cannon alleges BMO Harris Bank -- which acquired the land in foreclosure -- and the forest preserve district didn't have legal standing to complete the sale, because the Cannons were still trying to work out a deal to get out of the 2009 foreclosure and reclaim the land.
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Patrick O'Herlihy, a spokesman for BMO Harris Bank, said the bank was aware of the lawsuit but was choosing not to comment as it is a matter before the court.
The Cannons bought the land in 2006 for $19.3 million and took out a $14.5 million mortgage.
In 2009 their bank foreclosed. And in 2013, the forest preserve bought the promissory note for $14.5 million.
The Cannons, however, say the land today is worth much less than that. They included in their court complaint an independent appraisal of the property estimating its value at $7 million.
"They wanted the land. They didn't care what the value of the land was," Richard Kirk Cannon said, adding that the forest preserve was using taxpayer money to complete the transaction. "Whatever it took to make the deal happen (the forest preserve was) going to pay it."
The Cannons seek punitive damages from the forest preserve, the bank and other financial institutions including FDIC, which approved the sale of the promissory note.
Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, whose 14th District includes Horizon Farms, said he doesn't buy the Cannons' version of the events.
"I think that's pretty far-fetched," Goslin said. "They're looking at a lot of conspiracy things that just aren't there."
The Cannons and two other individuals were involved in a previous lawsuit against the forest preserve, filed in Cook County circuit court in 2013. It alleges the district acted illegally when they purchased the land from the bank.
Last month Cook County Judge Thomas R. Allen ruled against the Cannons, saying that although the forest preserve district acted in an "unorthodox" and "underhanded" manner, what it did was not illegal.
His ruling has been appealed.
The new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, still maintains that the forest preserve acted illegally, but also accuses the bank, forest preserve and FDIC of conspiracy and fraud. The new lawsuit also includes a demand for a jury trial.
Since the sale of Horizon Farms was approved in May, the forest preserve has moved ahead with plans to turn the land into public space. In June, they held their first public meeting to get input on what should be done with the land.
At the meeting, forest preserve representatives said they couldn't provide details about how the existing facilities on the property would be used until they underwent a thorough safety assessment, which could take the rest of the summer.
There will be another public meeting once the safety assessment is completed in the fall, the forest district said.