Courts

A Larkfield Road home is at the center of a lawsuit by its two former owners against Town of Huntington, Councilman Eugene Cook and his two business partners. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two former East Northport landowners are suing Huntington Town, Councilman Eugene Cook (R) and his two business partners for $5 million over alleged loss of property rights.

A federal lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York claims that town officials have intentionally overlooked zoning code violations at a multi-family home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ 2014 LLC in 2014. The company is owned by Cook and two business partners, Huntington real estate agent Timothy Cavanagh and Commack attorney Joshua Price.

The former homeowners, Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington, and her brother, Carmen Tomeo, allege the town officials’ efforts to unfairly enforce zoning codes on the five-family dwelling caused them to lose money in the sale, according to their attorney Christopher Cassar. The house was purchased for $400,000 by TGJ 2014.

“This house was their primary asset,” Cassar said.

The plaintiffs claim the Larkfield Road home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates the creation of Huntington Town code in 1934, according to court documents. Cassar said the family has a March 11, 2007 letter from the town which grandfathered the property’s right to be legally occupied as a five-family residence.

The lawsuit alleges town code enforcement officers began to issues summonses in 2012 against the property owners demanding it be returned to a single-family home, despite earlier promises.

“Town of Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of town code against the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.

Cassar said the town’s actions caused Dellinger and Tomeo to have difficulty selling the house, as two prior deals fell through. One potential buyer would have paid $900,000 for the property, according to Cassar, half a million more than Cook and his partners paid.

The former homeowners also claim the $5 million sought is for damages including loss of income from the property, loss of property value, embarrassment, harrassment, loss of liberty and infringement of their property rights, according to court records.

In 2015, town officials  hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house, to determine whether it was a legal rental and if the work being performed was legal.

Cassar said the town has issued a summons on the property, since Cook and his company took ownership, over issues with an exterior staircase and debris. However, the attorney said the town did not ever issue a code violation against it for being a multi-family dwelling.

Huntington has not been served with the lawsuit as of Sept. 20, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter, and he declined to comment further on the matter. Cook also declined to comment on the lawsuit after the Sept. 19 board meeting, as did Cavanagh. Price returned calls but did not comment on the matter.

Congressman supports end of ‘dreamer’ policy, preaches sensible border security fix

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

The heated debate over immigration is nothing new in the United States, or in Suffolk County for that matter, but the discussion has been enflamed and accelerated by a decision President Donald Trump (R) floated, walked back and ultimately left in limbo regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this week. Zeldin addressed challenges with improving immigration policy during an exclusive interview with TBR News Media at the end of August, and also weighed in on the possible phaseout of DACA this week.

The DACA program was enacted in 2012 during former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration as a temporary solution to the dilemma about how to handle the immigration status of individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age, rendering their decision to cross the border as out of their hands. The policy granted “dreamer” status to roughly 800,000 individuals, retroactively. This week, Trump announced via Twitter his intentions to phase out the program within six months, though few details were offered, and since then the president has backtracked, signaling to Congress he would like for them to come up with a solution.

“Many of these children involuntarily came to our country very young, have been here for a long time, go through our education system, love our country and are looking to stay here and greatly contribute to our economy and nation’s future,” Zeldin said in a statement. “What I struggle with the most is how you can possibly allow someone illegally in our country to be given preference over someone who is not in our country solely because that individual abroad is following the rules and respecting our laws, and as a result, they are not yet here.”

“If you want to come to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules.”

— Lee Zeldin

The decision by Trump has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for both the seeming lack of compassion for the group of mostly young people who have made a life in the U.S. and know the country as their home, and for the flippant nature of making the announcement on social media. Zeldin said it is a challenging issue because dreamers have established a life in America and were brought here involuntarily, though he said allowing them special treatment creates an unfair dynamic for those attempting to come to the U.S. legally.

“I support legal immigration,” he said. “I oppose illegal immigration. If you want to com se to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules. If you commit a crime and are deported, don’t come back. Every nation’s backbone is its rule of law. It is great to pursue the American Dream and to consider yourself a dreamer and everyone in the United States legally should consider themselves dreamers.”

Zeldin said in his statement and in August he would be open to discussion for ways to repair what he said he views as a flawed immigration system.

Referring to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and statements he has made since taking office, Zeldin said he wished the conversation on immigration and border security could get past “build a wall” versus “don’t build a wall.” He criticized Trump for a lack of publicly stated details regarding a border wall, citing natural barriers like rivers and mountains, which already secure large portions of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“If we sat down with [Trump] and had a conversation and he says, ‘We should put a 30-foot wall in the middle of the Rio Grande,’ that would be different,” Zeldin said. The 1st CD representative said he would be in favor of strengthening existing fencing in areas, building a new barrier in vulnerable areas and even utilizing some electric fencing to secure the border.

When asked if he thought Trump had the ability to advance immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion, Zeldin said he wasn’t sure because he hadn’t spoken directly with Trump on the issue, and his public statements lack specifics.

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

Being hyperfocused on avoiding probate can be an estate planning disaster. First, what exactly is “probate”? Probate is the legal process whereby a last will and testament is determined by the court to be authentic and valid. The court will then “admit” the will to probate and issue “letters testamentary” to the executor so that the executor can carry out the decedent’s intentions in accordance with the last will and testament.

That usually involves paying all funeral bills, administrative expenses, debts, settling all claims, paying any specific bequests and paying out the balance to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries. Avoiding probate can be accomplished by creating a trust to hold your assets during your lifetime and then distributing the assets at your death in the same manner and sequence as an executor would if your assets passed through probate.

Typically, this would be accomplished by creating a revocable trust and transferring all nonretirement assets to the trust during your lifetime, thereby avoiding probate at your death. Retirement assets like 403Bs, IRAs and nonqualified annuities are not transferred to revocable trusts as they have their own rules and should transfer after death by virtue of a beneficiary designation.

Retirement assets should not be subject to probate. The designation of a beneficiary is vital to avoid costly income taxes if retirement assets name the estate or default to the estate. The takeaway here is that you should make sure that you have named primary and contingent beneficiaries on your retirement assets.

If you name a trust for an individual, you must discuss that with a competent professional that can advise you if the trust can accept retirement assets without causing adverse income tax consequences. Not all trusts are the same.

Avoiding probate can be a disaster if it is not done as part of a comprehensive plan, even for the smallest estate. For example, consider this case: Decedent dies with two bank accounts, each naming her grandchildren on the account. This is called a Totten trust account. Those accounts each have $25,000. She has a small IRA of $50,000 that also names the grandchildren as beneficiaries. She owns no real estate. Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that the grandchildren are not 18 years of age. The parents cannot collect the money for the children because they are not guardians of the property for their minor children. Before the money can be collected, the parents must commence a proceeding in Surrogates Court to be appointed guardians of the property for each child. After time, money and expenses, and assuming the parents are appointed, they can collect the money as guardian and open a bank account for each child, to be turned over to them at age 18. The IRA would have to be liquidated, it could not remain an IRA and the income taxes will have to be paid on the distribution.

I do not know of a worse scenario for most 18-year-old children to inherit $50,000 when they may be applying for college and seeking financial aid, or worse, when deciding not to go to college and are free to squander it however they want.

If the grandparent had created an estate plan that created trusts for the benefit of the grandchild, then the trusts could have been named as the beneficiaries of the accounts and the entire debacle could have been avoided. The point is that while there are cases where naming individuals as beneficiaries is entirely appropriate, there are also times that naming a trust as beneficiary is the less costly option, and neither should be done without a plan in mind.

When clients have a large amount of assets and large retirement plans, the result can be even more disastrous. Consider the case where a $500,000 IRA names a child as a direct beneficiary. If a properly drawn trust for the benefit of the child was named as beneficiary, there would be no guardianship proceeding and the entire IRA could be preserved and payments spread out over the child’s life expectancy, amounting to millions of dollars in benefits to that child over their lifetime. If payable directly to the child, there will be guardianship fees and the $500,000 will likely be cashed in, income taxes paid and the balance put in a bank account accruing little interest and payable on the 18th birthday of the beneficiary.

The concern is that individuals are encouraged to avoid probate by merely naming beneficiaries but with no understanding of the consequences. At a time when the largest growing segment of the population is over 90, it does not take long to figure out that the likely beneficiaries will be in their 60s, 70s or older when they inherit an asset.

Thought must be given to protecting those beneficiaries from creditors, divorcing spouses (one out of two marriages end in divorce) and the catastrophic costs of long-term care. Whether the estate is large or small, most decedents want to protect their heirs. A well-drafted beneficiary trust can accomplish that goal.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

Frederick Staria III and Jason Kinlaw. Photos from SCPD

Suffolk County Police have arrested two Selden men in connection with multiple robberies that occurred earlier this week.

Following an investigation by Sixth Squad detectives, Frederick Staria III and Jason Kinlaw were arrested in connection with three robberies and an attempted robbery. Staria entered businesses, threatened the use of a weapon and demanded cash. He fled with an undisclosed amount of money. In one incident, the employee did not comply and Staria fled without proceeds. During two of the crimes, Kinlaw drove Staria to the locations.

The following businesses were robbed:

  • Gorgeous Salon, located at 1232 Middle Country Road in Selden, Feb. 12
  • QuickChek, located at 2686 Middle Country Road in Lake Grove, Feb. 13
  • Pizza Hut, located at 534-1 William Floyd Parkway in Shirley, Feb. 13

The attempted robbery occurred at:

  • Milk and Things, located at 815 Middle Country Road in Selden Feb. 13

Staria, 35, was charged with three counts of third-degree robbery, third-degree attempted robbery and four warrants. Kinlaw, 24, was charged with third-degree robbery and third-degree attempted robbery. They were held overnight at the Sixth Precinct for arraignment Feb. 14 at First District Court in Central Islip.

Echo Avenue. File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested two adults for hosting a party at their Sound Beach residence Feb. 11 after a teenager needed medical attention.

Seventh Precinct Patrol officers responded to a call from a parking lot across from 271 Echo Ave., at approximately 10:55 p.m., after a teenage girl became ill from alcohol consumption. The girl was coming from a party. When police arrived, there were more than 100 underage teenagers spilling out into the street. Alcohol was at the party.

The girl was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Police arrested and charged the hosts, Charles Suomi, 40, and Farnelle Marseille 35, with violating the social host law. Both were issued field appearance tickets and released. They are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on April 12.

Alan Bauser. Photo from PIO

Suffolk County Police arrested a man for driving while intoxicated with his daughter in his car in Selden Feb. 11.

Alan Bauser was driving a 2008 Hyundai southbound on North Ocean Ave. and Middle Country Road, when he was observed by Sixth Precinct Patrol Officer Christopher Weiner failing to maintain his lane of travel, crossing the roadway’s lane marking and crossing onto the shoulder of the road numerous times at approximately 11:35 p.m. Officer Weiner initiated a traffic stop and conducted sobriety tests, which Bauser failed. Bauser also admitted to overusing his prescription medication. Bauser’s 12-year-old daughter was in the car.

Further investigation revealed the daughter had a Family Court Order of Protection requiring Bauser to refrain from misusing prescription medication in her presence. The daughter was released to a family member.

Bauser, 42, of Medford, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 or younger (Leandra’s Law), endangering the welfare of a child and second degree criminal contempt.

Bauser will be held overnight at the Sixth Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on Feb. 12.

Javon Harrington. Photo from PIO

Suffolk County Police arrested a man in Selden Feb. 11 for driving under the influence of drugs after a two-vehicle crash.

Javon Harrington was operating a 2003 Infiniti on North Evergreen Drive at a high speed when he went through a stop sign at Pine Street and struck a 2009 Dodge, and then a tree. Harrington, 20, of Coram, and his passengers Elijah Quinitchette, 24, of Coram and Eddie Bray, 20, of Coram were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via Selden Fire Department Ambulance. Bray suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Harrington and Quinitchette suffered minor injuries.

The 19-year-old man driving the Dodge, and his two passengers, were also transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via Selden Fire Department Ambulance for observation.

Sixth Squad detectives arrested Harrington and charged him with driving while ability impaired by drugs. He was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Feb. 12.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks and the investigation is ongiong.

A beware of dog sign outside Peter Connelly’s home in Rocky Point. He was the owner of the pit bulls involved in last summer’s attacks. Photo from Matt Tuthill

In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.

Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”

—Matt Tuthill

The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.

The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.

Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.

Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”

He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”

Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.

“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”

“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

—Emily Pines

Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.

He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.

“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”

Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.

“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”

While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.

“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”

In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”

The new policy will be in effect immediately.

A violent dispute between two homeless men left one with a gunshot wound, and the other in court.

Alain Jean mugshot from SCPD
Alain Jean mugshot from SCPD

Alain Jean, 22, charged with shooting a homeless man in Port Jefferson Station on June 11, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and criminal possession of a weapon when he was arraigned at Suffolk County District Court in Riverhead on Tuesday, according to his attorney and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

“He vehemently denies these allegations,” Jean’s Hauppauge-based attorney Donald Mates said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He can’t wait to get his story out there to explain what really happened.”

Jean’s bail was set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond, according to a spokesman for Spota. Mates said his client wasn’t able to make bail as of Tuesday.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Jean shot the 22-year-old victim multiple times shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Union Street, which is between Hallock Avenue and Route 25A, and the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Port Jefferson Station.

The victim was treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital. A spokesman for Spota said the weapon used in the shooting was a .22 caliber revolver.

Jean’s next court date is July 26.

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