Town ethics board: No problem with East Islip land sale

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The Islip ethics board has found no wrongdoing in the sale of a plot of surplus town land, which the town board voted to sell for $3.2 million to a neighbor and campaign contributor of Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt.

The issue came to the ethics board's attention last month, when Islip planning board member Joseph DeVincent wrote to the panel, requesting a review of the sale.

DeVincent said at a meeting that he had been prepared to vote for the change of zone that was contingent on the sale of the 2.45-acre property in East Islip, but was concerned by "troubling questions" raised by town residents.

DeVincent, a Democrat, asked the ethics board to look at how the sale was advertised and how potential buyers were solicited before the town board unanimously voted to sell the site last year to John Bohlsen of the Bohlsen Restaurant Group.

DeVincent said the broker was not chosen through a public bidding process, and he questioned the amount of the broker's fee.

Bergin Weichbrodt, a Republican who lives on the same street as the Bohlsens and has received about $7,250 from them in campaign contributions since 2009, did not return calls seeking comment.

In a response issued last night, ethics board chairman Nicholas Campasano wrote, "Based upon the information we have now received, it does not appear that there has been any impropriety, or, more importantly, no breach of the Islip Code of Ethics."

DeVincent, after reading the decision, said he still has concerns. "Based on what they were told, I can understand their decision."

Before the ruling, town attorney Robert Cicale disputed any suggestion of impropriety, saying that Bohlsen was the highest of three bidders -- offering well above the $2.75 million appraisal -- and that Paul Llobell was chosen as broker because of his resume and expertise.

"This is a particular professional service that requires local knowledge," Cicale had said in an email, adding that real estate brokers who are hired to sell town property are recruited based on experience and geographic area. And they are hired via a professional services agreement that is voted on by the town board.

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Records show Bergin Weichbrodt made the motions to hire Llobell and to approve Bohlsen as the buyer.

DeVincent said his concerns developed as residents raised the issue of a possible conflict during planning board hearings on the sale.

The sale of surplus land has been one of Bergin Weichbrodt's pet projects: to return properties to the tax rolls in the face of a gaping budget deficit.Critics of the sale, including Shawn Linz, a next-door neighbor of the property being sold, and George Hafele, a Democrat competing for Bergin Weichbrodt's seat on the town board, said it was improper because the councilwoman and the Bohlsens are friends and neighbors in East Islip.

Llobell, whom the town board voted 5-0 to hire in April 2012, is a Republican who has contributed to the campaigns of local Republicans Olga Hopkins Murray, the Islip Town clerk, and Suffolk Legis. Tom Cilmi. He also gave $1,000 to the Town of Islip Republican Committee in 2012.

Cicale said Llobell's 5 percent commission is below typical market rate, and he noted that the Bohlsens would pay the $160,000 fee.

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At an Oct. 8 town board meeting, Hafele addressed Bergin Weichbrodt, saying she should have abstained from voting on the sale because of her ties to the Bohlsens. "Did you consider the thought that you may want to recuse yourself from a real estate transaction that included . . . selling the parcel to your friend and neighbor?" Hafele asked.

Bergin Weichbrodt did not publicly respond.

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