PALO ALTO -- A local real estate developer has filed a lawsuit accusing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of breach of contract in a case stemming from Zuckerberg's unusual effort to buy up several properties adjacent to his own Palo Alto home.

Zuckerberg paid an eye-popping sum of more than $43 million in separate deals to buy four homes and lots adjoining his own property in the tony Crescent Park neighborhood in late 2012 and 2013, after learning that a developer planned to build a large house on one of the lots behind Zuckerberg's home.

But the developer, Mircea Voskerician, says the multibillionaire Facebook cofounder never followed through on a promise to help Voskerician by providing introductions and referrals to other wealthy individuals who might want to buy homes from the developer.

Voskerician made his complaint in a lawsuit filed this month in Santa Clara County Superior Court. An attorney for Zuckerberg called the lawsuit "meritless," while noting that Zuckerberg paid Voskerician $1.7 million for the right to buy a property on Hamilton Avenue that is behind Zuckerberg's home.

Both sides agree Voskerician had already made an offer on the Hamilton Avenue property, which the previous owner had accepted. Voskerician says he then approached Zuckerberg with an offer to sell a portion of that lot so Zuckerberg would have a bigger buffer between his house and the new home Voskerician planned to build.


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Instead, Zuckerberg offered to buy Voskerician's legal right to the Hamilton Avenue property so Zuckerberg could purchase the entire lot himself. "Zuckerberg stated he did not want construction in his backyard for 14 months and told Voskerician that he would refer him business and make him introductions if, in exchange, Voskerician would help him secure his privacy," the lawsuit states.

Though the developer said he initially didn't want to give up the project, he ultimately agreed. Zuckerberg paid $1.7 million to Voskerician and then bought the lot from its owner for $4.8 million, according to county records, which is the same amount Voskerician had agreed to pay. Zuckerberg later bought three more lots nearby at prices ranging from $10.5 million to $14.5 million each.

But in his lawsuit, Voskerician says his interest in the first property was worth far more than $1.7 million. Another developer had offered him $4.3 million to take over the deal, Voskerician said, but he gave Zuckerberg a discount after the tech mogul and his financial advisers said they would help him get other deals.

"Here's this guy who built his business on connections and relationships, and all he had to do was make some introductions, but he blew my client off," said David Draper, an attorney for Voskerician. Draper said the agreement to make introductions wasn't spelled out in a written contract, but was witnessed by several people who attended the meeting between Zuckerberg and Voskerician.

Zuckerberg attorney Patrick Gunn disputed that claim, although he didn't flatly deny that there was some discussion. "The (lawsuit's) description of the meeting that took place is unrecognizable to my client. The claim here is just meritless, plain and simple," he said in an interview.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey