Questioned about whether he and his family were trying to influence an action by the city council, Wilf replied. "Of course not. I'm involved in different things, but again, I cannot respond on the phone if somebody calls me up. My contribution is mine. I don't think this is necessary. It's only a few hundred dollars. I don't want to hear any assumptions. I won't respond no matter how many times you ask me. I think the conversation went far enough. I'm going to finish the conversation right now. I don't want to speak to you anymore."
Joseph Korn, another Murphy donor listed as retired, was even more reticent during a telephone interview from his Basking Ridge, New Jersey home. Asked why he had given multiple contributions to Murphy and the two city council members and whether he had been reimbursed, Korn replied, "I'm involved in the election process, why? Can I ask why you are calling me?" Told that public records indicated that he was employed by the Wilf family, Korn said, "I appreciate you calling, thanks for calling," and hung up the phone.
Mario Dudzinski, also interviewed by telephone from New Jersey, confirmed that he is employed by a development company in that state and has traveled to San Diego on business. He would not discuss his relationship with the Wilf family. He denied that he had been reimbursed. "I'm very civic-minded, just leave it at that," Dudzinski said.
In July 1998, according to an account in the Union-Tribune, Garden Communities was building 617-unit residential complex Called Costa Village South in University City. The firm also was preparing to build a related development, 640-unit Costa Verde Village North, and had recently opened Del Mar Ridge, with 180 units.
Public records show that companies related to the Wilf family own millions of dollars of real estate in San Diego. Wilf-related entities include Costa Verde Hotel, LLC La Jolla Canyon Gardens, Pacific Bay Gardens, La Jolla Crossroads, Cape La Jolla Gardens, Torrey Ranch, DMG Associates, 820 Associates, and Villa La Jolla Gardens.
Last June, the trade publication Shopping Center World profiled the Wilf family and their development empire, based in Short Hills, New Jersey. "The Garden Commercial story begins in the early 1950s with Harry and Joseph Wilf, brothers who emigrated from Poland to the United States shortly after the end of World War II.
"After a stint running a used-car business in Brooklyn, the two Polish immigrants shifted their focus to apartment rentals. Enjoying success in this endeavor, the pair expanded their scope and parlayed the profits from the apartment-rental business into the creation of Garden Homes, a development firm specializing in single-family dwellings.
"Shortly thereafter, Garden Homes moved into the business of developing apartment homes."
According to the magazine, Leonard Wilf, son of Harry, is actively involved in the company business, as is his son, Orin. Joseph's son Mark is also a principal in the firm. The magazine quotes Orin as saying, "We now own close to 30,000 units, mostly in New York and New Jersey, but also in Florida, Arizona, California, and Israel." In 1997, Leonard was named by President Bill Clinton to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
"We're not into mega-malls," Orin told the magazine. Rather, "we develop retail shopping centers that serve the basic needs of the surrounding community."
Currently, according to the magazine, the family owns almost a hundred retail properties.
"Our specialty over time has been the grocery or department store-anchored strip center," Orin Wilf was quoted as saying. "We have done a lot of centers anchored by Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Linens 'n' Things," he says, "as well as just about every supermarket active in New Jersey."
"We don't foresee going public -- we like being private," Wilf told the magazine. "Our commercial division has individuals who do acquisition, development, leasing, construction, and management, which enables us to carry out all of these activities on an in-house basis. Our oversight of all the processes is tight, which usually enables us to bring projects to fruition at a lower cost than our competitors, and gives us an advantage in the marketplace."
"Replicating our success is neither a predictable science nor smoke-and-mirrors magic," Zygmunt Wilf, another family member active in the business, told the magazine. "It's the result of skill acquired over time, and only after gaining vast experience in the market. It presumes a mastery of our industry, along with a reputation for stability and integrity that, taken together, have become the cornerstone in our ability to attract strong anchor stores and successful tenants to our projects.
"It is the Garden Commercial way of doing both business and life," he says, "which we hope to pass on to our children."
But the news has not always been so good for the Wilfs and their family business. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was suing Garden Homes Management, Corp.; Westbound Homes, Inc.; Redstone Garden Apartments, Inc.; Joseph Wilf; and Cathy Rosenstein for allegedly refusing to rent to African-Americans. According to the government's allegations, contained in a June 21, 1999, news release, the defendants were caught by a sting during which "trained pairs of African-American and white testers pose as prospective tenants and inquire about the availability of rental units."
The federal lawsuit sought "an order preventing Garden Homes Management and the owners of the three complexes from engaging in further discriminatory practices and requiring the defendants to pay damages to any individuals identified as victims of the discrimination." Federal officials could not immediately ascertain the fate of their lawsuit, and neither the Wilf family nor its companies returned phone calls seeking comment on the allegations.
One of the Wilf family's newest San Diego shopping centers is planned for a site in a five-acre PUD (planned unit development) near Costa Verde, near University City, according to information on the Garden Commercial website (www.gardencommercial.com). The population within a five-mile radius of the site currently totals 182,401, according to the site, with an average household income of $72,802