Stamford developer pleads guilty to $71 million swindle

"Would I lie to you?" John DiMenna at his most charming

"Would I lie to you?" John DiMenna at his most charming

John DiMenna, 74, is about to lose his liberty, forever. Not sure I'd make that same decision.

Like most successful fraudsters, DiMenna presented himself, and was perceived as, a perfect gentleman, all while he was stealing from investors who considered him a friend.

As recently as 2015, the Stamford Advocate was still publishing gushing tributes to him, despite his history of fraud dating back to 1995.

STAMFORD -- In his sun-filled corner office overlooking the downtown, John DiMenna has an unusually calm demeanor for a businessman in the thick of Stamford's building boom.
At 70 [sic] the tall, salt-and-pepper-maned DiMenna has the bearing of a likeable English professor. Those who know him describe him as articulate but thoughtful, choosing his words with care and taking the time to observe and listen to those around him.
In short, he is not what you expect. [Or think he is — ED]
"Not to cast aspersions on the industry, but John DiMenna certainly does not fit the mold when you think about a developer," said Jack Condlin, the president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. "He's soft-spoken, very easygoing and very genuine." [hahahaha]
In a slightly astonished tone, he added: "He's actually interested in hearing what you have to say."
Similarly, Sandy Goldstein, the president of the Downtown Special Services District, said of him, "You will never meet a nicer or more humble person."
Since founding Seaboard Properties in 1992 and pursuing a strategy of acquiring office buildings, mostly in the South End, DiMenna has over the past six years moved his focus north, assembling a portfolio of mixed-use properties entirely in the downtown that encompasses 900,000 square feet and is valued at $250 million. Along the way, he has earned a reputation as a savvy but low-key real estate investor and developer.
"Traditionally, John is a value investor," said Randy Salvatore, a downtown developer who has worked with DiMenna. "He's bought at the bottom and sold at the top."
In 2007, Seaboard sold a significant chunk of its holdings to Greenwich-based Antares Investment Partners for $87 million, Antares being the initial development team behind Harbor Point. The sale included the company's flagship property, Stamford Landing, a five-building, 206,000-square-foot waterfront office complex. All told, DiMenna unloaded roughly half of his one million-square-foot portfolio for a total of $125 million.
The timing amazed real estate observers. By DiMenna's estimation, he beat the crash "by an hour." Antares would go on to lose control of the $3 billion Harbor Point redevelopment to then-Norwalk-based developer Building and Land Technology.
While the recession hobbled most developers other than BLT, DiMenna took his time and studied the landscape.
"What happens after a recession is there is a lot of a fear," he said. "For us, fear spells opportunity."
DiMenna has also made a foray into the hospitality industry, buying Courtyard by Marriott in 2011 from developer Tom Rich for $30 million. As part of an expansion plan, he is constructing the Marriott Residence Inn, the first extended-stay hotel in the downtown. The seven-story building, wedged between Seaboard's headquarters at 1 Atlantic St. and the Palace Theatre, will connect to the Courtyard by Marriott and have 156 rooms. 
Although the project's towering crane has become one of the symbols of the downtown's growth, work on the Marriott site recently halted, causing city officials to speculate privately. Patrick Ryan, a spokesman for a group of contractors, said the stoppage was the result of an organized walkout in November because the construction workers had not been paid.
Asked about the status, DiMenna said he decided to suspend construction after the holidays because of changes that were made to the building's interior design, as well as cold weather issues. He said he was not aware of any contractor disputes. Construction is set to resume in February. The delay, he added, would not affect the slated October 2015 completion date. [In fact, it turned out that DiMenna owed millions to the workers, and never paid them - FWIW] 
Among its commercial holdings, Seaboard owns two boutique office buildings in the downtown's historic district: an eight-story 81,000-square-foot office building at 300 Main St. and 1 Atlantic Street, which is comparably sized. Both were built in the late 1920s and reflect DiMenna's penchant for architecturally interesting buildings.
A Mount Vernon native who majored in English at the University of Miami, DiMenna got his professional start working in his grandfather's construction business, which specialized in public works infrastructure. When he was 45, he decided to embark on a career in real estate. Traditionally a high-stakes industry, its members often learn the hard way how quickly the tide of investor confidence can turn. DiMenna was no different. By 50, he said, he was broke. 
Over the years, he has learned the value of patience, being content with perhaps one deal a year. And yet he still exhibits the characteristic long-term vision and grit of a developer. Looking ahead, he said his company, with 12 employees, is targeting properties between the train station and North Street.
He later added: "For people who are in it, it's an avocation as much as a vocation."

If you believe this 2016 article, and in light of his guilty plea, I do, DiMenna stole from at least 131 of his fellow Wee Burn Country members, and completely wiped out 18 of them. I've often wondered why the Madoffs of this world, and mini-Madoffs like DiMenna, choose to stay alive in prison, for the rest of their lives, instead of doing the honorable thing, atoning for their sins and at the same time avoiding that fate, but I guess these people are different from you and me; at least I hope they are.