OCEAN TOWNSHIP - A local homebuilder claims former Mayor Daniel M. Van Pelt used his political influence to stop projects in town by developers he disliked.

Marjorie and Robert Parise, of Stafford Township, filed a civil suit in 2008 that alleges Van Pelt, who was Ocean Township mayor at the time, and then-Deputy Mayor Robert Kraft wrongfully denied their development applications for unlawful purposes.

Robert Parise contacted The Press of Atlantic City about the lawsuit following news Thursday that Van Pelt, now a Republican assemblyman representing Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic counties, was charged in a federal corruption sting last week.

Federal authorities allege Van Pelt took $10,000 from an FBI cooperating witness posing as a developer interested in building in Ocean Township.

In their civil suit, the Parises said Van Pelt and other township officials also took advantage of them during the past 11 years, failing inspections or rezoning their properties because they at times declined to make deals with the officials.

"The laws don't matter down here," Robert Parise said. "They just do whatever they want."

The civil case was most recently in mediation in June, and the parties are currently waiting for a conference with Superior Court Judge Rochelle Gizinski in Toms River.

Kraft, reached Monday on his cell phone, said the lawsuit was "frivolous" and "had no merits," and that he had never met the Parises.

Van Pelt answered the telephone at his home Monday afternoon, but hung up without answering a reporter's questions.

Attorney Guy P. Ryan, who represents Kraft and Van Pelt in the civil case, could not be reached for comment.

The Parises and Marjorie Parise's company, K&R Custom Homes, own land throughout the county, and the couple said at least 15 of their projects have been halted for capricious reasons.

"A lot of small builders who don't want to get harassed ... just do what (Van Pelt) says," Robert Parise said.

In Ocean Township, the Parises said they owned land directly behind Van Pelt's current house on the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and Walker Lane.

They said they were eventually forced to sell, however, because Van Pelt and other township officials allegedly worked together to thwart their plans to build single-family homes on the land.

In their suit, the Parises seek payment for damages as a result of Van Pelt and Kraft's alleged interference in their plans, which caused undue harm and economic loss.

After Van Pelt and 43 others were charged in the massive corruption probe, officials and groups throughout the state have stated that "pay-to-play" practices are rampant throughout the state.

On Monday, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, called for more regulations to stop such practices, focusing on the Department of Environmental Protection, which Van Pelt allegedly sought to influence as an assemblyman.

"As one of the indicted lawmakers, state Rep. Daniel Van Pelt, who sits on the committee overseeing (the) DEP, bragged to the FBI confidential informant, he knows the 'right guys' who 'work' the 'channels,'" a statement from the group reads.

"The back channels into (the) DEP need to be shut down," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in the statement.

Staff Writer Derek Harper contributed to this report.

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