Jacobs sues two for libel in camp fight

Jay Jacobs, state Democratic committee chairman, has filed a $65-million libel lawsuit against two North Sea homeowners who oppose his proposed camp in their neighborhood, alleging they wrote lies in a flier to defame him.

The lawsuit -- filed Friday in State Supreme Court in Riverhead against John Barona and John Gorman, president and vice president, respectively, of the Little Fresh Ponds Association -- seeks damages to "redress certain defamatory statements, and injurious falsehoods, published by the defendants to the public on or around Oct. 18, 2011, falsely stating that plaintiffs have engaged in wrongful, criminal, and or fraudulent conduct" regarding the application for the camp submitted to Southampton Town for consideration.

"It's an intimidation tactic," Barona said Tuesday. "Basically, it's the strike out of a desperate man." Barona said he is considering a countersuit.

But Jacobs, who owns six other camps, said Tuesday that he did not file the lawsuit because the pair oppose the camp, or misunderstand facts, but because Barona and Gorman, whose names appear on the flier, are trying to ruin his reputation by saying the camp owner lied on the application and to various town boards regarding the project.

"Lying to get an exemption is a crime," he said. "And stating that I am lying is defamation, and I believe maliciously done."

Jacobs said he is looking for a public, published apology from the two men.

The lawsuit was filed one day after a Thursday night, standing-room-only zoning board meeting where a majority of the residents opposed the opening of the camp and asked for an appeal of the building inspector's approval.

Most of the controversy swirls around sewer capacity and the potential harm on the fragile ecosystem of Little Fresh Pond. Opponents say the extra sewage capacity would hurt the pond, but Jacobs said studies done on the property show the flow direction to be away from the pond, adding that he plans to update all the old cesspools on the property with new septic tanks.

The proposed Southampton Day Camp on Majors Path, which was once a tennis camp, would have up to 400 daytime campers, and up to 100 staffers for 10 weeks in the summer. There will be room for 40 bunk houses for camp counselors who don't live nearby, but most of the staff will be local residents, Jacobs said.

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