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Robert Toussie halts Suffolk land auction with few properties sold

Auctioneer David Constantino, right, speaks with bidders during

Auctioneer David Constantino, right, speaks with bidders during a break at the land auction at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge on Wednesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Hauppauge hotel ballroom was largely empty again Wednesday morning as veteran developer Robert Toussie hosted the second day of a two-day land auction.

About 30 people were present when auctioneer David Constantino began to call out properties. Toussie said 360 people had pre-registered for the event.

The audience at the Hyatt Regency Long Island was a tough one. Bidders clutched their bid cards but did not raise them.

An hour into the event only two properties had sold.

Toussie, considered one of the largest private land owners on Long Island, held the auction to sell 236 Suffolk County properties from his extensive portfolio.  On Tuesday less than a third of the 124 properties auctioned were sold,  he said.  Another 112 were to go on the block Wednesday, but the auction, scheduled to run until 6 p.m., was halted around noon.

Toussie said the low turnout and overall lack of bids were perplexing, given the number of people who had pre-registered.

“You know auctions are hit or miss,” he said. “But this is a learning experience for me, and I’m enjoying it.”

Toussie said several people told him they were hesitant to bid because purchasing the properties presented a risk.

“We’re not selling 'subject to permits,' ” he said. “People are afraid they might not be able to get permits to build on the land, so going forward this is something to consider.” Toussie said hosting an online auction in the future was another option.

He said people who had come to the auction Wednesday were buying properties privately. “One woman just bought four properties, and another man bought three,” he said.

Daniel Castro, 42, of Brentwood, bought a 12,852-square-foot parcel in Greenlawn. Castro, a general contractor and builder, said he often attends land auctions seeking properties to invest in. 

"I definitely got a great deal today," said Castro, adding that he had negotiated a package price and bought additional lots owned by Toussie that were not originally for sale at the auction.

Starting bids on the 236 properties originally  had been set from $7,000 to $6.5 million, but opening bids were discounted both days. 

Toussie had  said he would make more than $33 million if all the properties sold at the minimum bids. His attorney, Larry Davis of Davis and Prager in Patchogue, Wednesday declined to say how much the auction sales brought in.

 Toussie was habitually the highest bidder for many years at surplus land auctions held by Suffolk County but was embroiled in several legal disputes.

Suffolk officials in 2001 and 2002 prohibited him from buying property at county land auctions, after a dispute about the value of a property Toussie had sold to the county. In 2004 county officials had police officers escort him out of an auction after they had barred him from bidding and Toussie continued to do so.

The developer sued the county alleging officials discriminated against him and violated his rights.  After a 10-year court battle, a federal jury in 2011 awarded him $12,500. He originally demanded $30 million from the county. 

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