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May 12, 2009 5:50 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Suffolk County D.A. grills East Hampton Town Board members

May 12, 2009 5:50 PM

Three members of the East Hampton Town Board were grilled on the town’s finances by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Government Corruption Bureau on Monday, May 4.

The District Attorney Director of Communication Robert Clifford refused last week to comment, beyond issuing a statement that he “cannot confirm the existence of a criminal investigation” into the town’s financial crisis.

Supervisor Bill McGintee acknowledged Wednesday that a team of county investigators had grilled board members Julia Prince, Pat Mansir and Brad Loewen.

“They did not speak to me on this visit. I’m not overly curious. They’re following up on complaints,” said Mr. McGintee, who, along with his budget officer Ted Hults, has shouldered much of the blame for the town’s fiscal mismanagement.

“There were maybe four major subjects that seemed to pique their interest,” said Ms. Mansir on Wednesday, May 6. “Bill McGintee was not among them.”

Ms. Mansir said that the investigators asked questions about the town’s former auditors, Albrecht, Viggiano and Zureck, about bonds that the town had issued, and “a lot of history.”

“They asked a lot of dates and I don’t have dates. They wanted to know how much the Town Board knew about everything that was going on,” she said. “They also said on the phone that they do not believe the Town Board had any knowledge of what was going on.”

Ms. Mansir said she did not know if Mr. McGintee and Mr. Hults were the subject of the investigation. “You’d have to read between the lines” to come to that conclusion, she said.

She said that the investigators also asked several cursory questions about the town’s use of Community Preservation Funds.

Ms. Mansir said that this is the first time that investigators from the District Attorney’s office had visited the town, but that she didn’t think it would be the last.

“I don’t want to go through this again, but I have a feeling we’re going to,” she said. Ms. Mansir added that the investigators were very professional and cordial. She said that contrary to published reports there was not a uniformed police officer present during the interviews, but said one of the investigators was a police sergeant who was wearing a business suit.

“I’ve been in law enforcement long enough to know that the D.A.’s office is just doing their job. If you get complaints, you have to follow up and look into it,” said Mr. McGintee, adding that he believes that people close to The Independent, the newspaper that broke the story Wednesday, had been making the complaints.

“I think that there’s a handful of people that are orchestrating this entire debacle. It’s the same people that keep calling the State Comptroller’s office. I have a name, but I’m not going to get into that,” he said.

A spokesman in the State Comptroller’s Office, William Reynolds, stated in an e-mail he had “nothing to report at this time” about whether or not the comptroller’s office was involved in the D.A.’s investigation. The State Comptroller’s Office has not yet been able to accept the town’s independent auditors’ conclusion that the town was $9.8 million in debt at the end of 2007 because of several interfund transfers that were not properly reconciled.

Town Comptroller Janet Verneuille now estimates that the actual deficit at the end of 2007 could have been as high as $11 million or $12 million.

Though Ms. Verneuille, a CPA who was hired in January to help the town dig out of its financial quagmire, told the town’s Budget Advisory Committee last week that she had not found anything that she believed was fraudulent in the transfers, she said that money had often been transferred to the wrong accounts and that her understaffed office was having trouble undoing the damage done by poor bookkeeping practices during the period that the town went without an accountant between 2007 and 2008.

Mr. McGintee said he doubted the State Comptroller and the District Attorney were working together. “The audit is not an investigation. It’s to offer advice,” he said.

Mr. McGintee added that he had nothing to hide from the D.A.’s office.

“We’re in the middle of a financial crisis just like everybody,” he said. “We have nothing to hide.”

Though town records related to the town’s misuse of its Community Preservation Fund had reportedly been subpoenaed by a grand jury convened by the Suffolk County D.A.’s office early in 2008, no indictments have been issued and the D.A.’s office refused to confirm whether a grand jury had ever been impaneled.

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good start mr. d.a.
By montauk resident (41), montauk on May 6, 09 6:57 PM
Great start to the end of all this mess!

To Mike Hartley: Why does nearly every single comment you make criticize this website or the newspaper? I just looked at all your posts; you do it over and over again. What's your point? If you don't like what's written here, read something else and shut up.
By RealLocal (76), Bridgehampton on May 7, 09 4:57 PM
The discourse is far more interesting and thought-provoking on news sites, such as the NY Times, where the public comments are edited for relevance to the story. On sites where there's little or no editing, such as Newsday, the comments too often devolve into pointless provocation, personal attacks, and irrelevant rantings. The previous comments are a good illustration of how such a devolution happens.
It's admirable to want to avoid censoring readers or discouraging free expression, but there ...more
By easthamptoner (34), easy hampton on May 8, 09 11:08 AM
I agree with RealLocal. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I have information from a reliable, but anonymous, source that Mike Hartely is non-other than Rick Murphy (editor of the East Hampton Independent). I am not suprised that he is attacking another news source--he'll do anything to attract readers to his useless tabloid and he'll use any venue possible to spread his venom.
By Joe Smith (6), East Hampton on Jun 3, 09 7:06 PM