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Civil Investigation Into Office Eavesdropping

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 12:42

The East Hampton Town Trustees have retained an attorney to begin a civil investigation into the apparent electronic eavesdropping in the conference room at their Amagansett offices that began at least eight months ago.

Timothy Hoover of Hodgson Russ will conduct the investigation, the trustees decided on Monday. Mr. Hoover is an associate of Daniel Spitzer, the trustees’ counsel for matters relating to the proposed South Fork Wind Farm.

“We’re still looking at this issue of lack of privacy at our office,” Francis Bock said at the trustees’ meeting on Monday, before the seven trustees present voted unanimously to retain Mr. Hoover. “We had a conversation with special counsel.”

“We’ve been really concerned about what occurred,” said Jim Grimes, a deputy clerk, “something that goes all the way back to last October. We’d definitely like to get to the bottom of it.”

The Suffolk County district attorney’s office was notified of the eavesdropping last month, after The Star contacted several trustees about a digital recording that was mailed to at least two residents of the town. “We have engaged with the D.A.’s office, who is working on this,” Mr. Grimes said. “It doesn’t seem to be going too fast.” He said an investigation is “something I feel strongly about, and I would like to see some action on it.”

The decision to hire an outside counsel to investigate was the subject of a special meeting and executive session last week, said Bill Taylor, the trustees’ other deputy clerk. “It seems like an issue we have to get to the bottom of.”

“I think it’s important that the trustee office be a safe place for the board and the public to hold meetings,” said Rick Drew. “I’m in support of getting to the bottom of it.”

Mr. Bock, Mr. Grimes, and Mr. Taylor are all heard discussing various matters on an edited recording that was apparently meant to portray them poorly. Arlene Tesar, the trustees’ secretary, and David E. Rattray, editor in chief of The Star, are also heard, though only briefly. Mr. Rattray said that he discussed boundaries of Gardiner’s Bay with the trustees on Oct. 4 last year.

Some trustees have speculated that the perpetrator may have intended to surreptitiously record their discussions with Mr. Spitzer about the proposed wind farm. Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, the wind farm’s developer, is seeking an easement from the trustees to land the wind farm’s export cable at the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott, which has spurred an organized opposition by residents of that hamlet. Orsted officials are also looking at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk as a viable alternative site.

The trustees are divided on the wind farm, and some have adopted a role of rigorous oversight of the project on behalf of fishermen.

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