Lawsuit Claims Catholic School Priest Tried to Extort $94K From Local Developer

Spring-based developer Robert Pinard had thought he was being charitable when he agreed to purchase some land from Northwoods Catholic School.

The school claimed it was struggling financially and needed to unload some assets to get out of the hole, says Pinard's attorney, Cris Feldman. Pinard's daughter attended the school, and he had made donations to the school in the past. So when a priest who was an administrator at the school approached him about buying 1.4 acres of the school's land, Pinard agreed to buy it for $2.5 million, according to Feldman; he planned to build a strip mall that included a medical supplies facility.

But nothing was ever built, even though Pinard had already begun clearing the land and surveying it. And now, he's suing Northwoods Educational Foundation and the priest he had been negotiating with all along, Father Daniel Massick, claiming that, on top of never paying him for the work he did, Massick tried to extort $94,000 out of him by threatening his daughter.

According to the lawsuit, just as they were finalizing paperwork for the sale, Massick dropped Pinard entirely after Pinard refused to fork over an additional $94,000 donation to the school. In a text message, Massick said he couldn't finalize the paperwork until Pinard paid up, but Pinard objected, saying it was never part of the deal. In a phone call that followed, according to the lawsuit, Massick told him, “I hope nothing happens to your daughter.”

“My client attempted to help the church, and instead, he was subjected to a shakedown,” Feldman said.

But according to the counterclaims the Catholic school filed against Pinard, the school was the victim in this — and Pinard was nothing but a savvy real estate developer who is trying to dupe the church into falling for a “land-grab scheme.” In fact, lawyers for the school allege, Pinard was the one making threats.

“Although it initially appeared that Pinard was intending to assist the school in reaching its financial objectives by helping it sell the property,” the school's lawyers write, “it turned out that Pinard's intentions were very different. Pinard wanted to obtain part of the property for himself, and threatened to sue to get his way — despite the fact that Pinard knew all along that no agreement to purchase any part of such land existed.”

Which makes sense given that the school board, which would have final approval on any of Massick's deals, never signed off on any contract that would hand over the land to Pinard. The school's lawyers (who could not be reached for comment) actually claim in legal filings that no contract for the sale ever existed at all.

Feldman, Pinard's attorney, says that's flatly false, and that the contract existed but was simply never signed, which is where the alleged extortion comes in. Massick allegedly wanted the $94,000 before he would send it on up for approval, which he explains in the text message. When asked why Pinard would even begin doing work on the land without a signed contract, Feldman said that, well, Pinard figured he was dealing with priests, and that all would be sorted out fairly. “He was doing this in a charitable manner,” Feldman said. 

Massick no longer works for the school, though it's unclear if the allegations in this case had anything to do with that. 
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn