This story was originally published in Newsday on April 2, 2000
It has become the stuff of which soap operas are made - the tale of Huntington harbormaster William Perks and town board member Susan Scarpati-Reilly.
Set amid the gentle waves of Centerport Harbor and the - at times - tumultuous political seas of Huntington's town hall, Scarpati-Reilly and Perks are the focus of a salacious saga that could potentially cost Huntington taxpayers millions.
The current ugly he-said / she-said is a much more contentious setting than when the two first met in the mid-1980s at a local Republican function. Their friendship later became sexual, Perks said, and ended amid allegations of assault, stalking, harassment and trysts on Perks' houseboat.
And, the little scandal that could took on cyclone-like proportions last year when Perks sued Scarpati-Reilly and the town for $ 10 million, alleging she threatened to have him fired if he ended their 18-month affair. To prove his case, in January, Perks hired a forensic scientist to comb his houseboat for evidence.
To date, the sordid tale has cost taxpayers $ 96,870.
Scarpati-Reilly adamantly denies sexual liaisons ever took place, saying she only had a platonic relationship with Perks. But the ensuing scandal has come to resemble a prime-time melodrama.
"I think the taxpayers are the victims in all of this and eventually it's going to beat all the ratings of Peyton Place," Republican town Supervisor Frank Petrone said.
But the town board member and the harbormaster say they have also suffered. Scarpati-Reilly, 48, a divorce and criminal attorney in private practice, has watched her once steady flow of clients wane to a trickle. Perks, 48, who has long had a passion for working on the water, now jokingly calls himself the "garbage master," since he now does his job out of a trailer at the town's landfill.
Both said they have become objects of ridicule in the Town of Huntington. It is an ending neither said they could have imagined.
They met in the mid-1980s, when Scarpati-Reilly was an up-and-coming politico and Perks was a guest speaker who told adventurous tales of restoring and giving tours on a 100-year-old sailboat, "Little Jennie." But they said their friendship didn't bloom until February, 1996, while the two worked together to resuscitate the town's then-defunct oil spill response team - an effort prompted by a 3,300-gallon oil spill in July, 1995, at the LILCO loading platform at Smithtown Bay.
Scarpati-Reilly headed up the effort to revitalize the oil response team and Perks was named its manager. During the course of the project, they said they had chat-filled lunches - often about Perks' numerous grievances against the town, his marital problems, her work and her family.
He was going through a divorce and Scarpati-Reilly's husband was often on the road as a bank field investigator, they both said.
Scarpati-Reilly said she and Perks had a platonic relationship and that he gave her tokens of that friendship such as a miniature, gold-plated lobster and shell pins which she called her "trinkets from the sea." She gave him a copy of the book "The Perfect Storm" and a writing pen topped by a tiny whale.
Perks has said the gifts were romantic exchanges, given as an expression of affection and that he and the two-term town board member took their relationship to a sexual level one evening in February, 1997, in the town attorney's office.
That, he said, was the start of a 11/2-yearlong affair with Scarpati-Reilly that included cozy rendezvous in local bars such as Healy's Inn in Centerport, romps at a nude beach on Fire Island and sex in her office and his houseboat docked behind his Centerport home.
In the predawn dark, the two would make their way across the flagstone path behind his two-story home to his 36-foot house boat, Perks said. On his boat, which he's christened the "Susan Scarpati-Reilly," because her campaign sticker still clings to the hull, the two had sex, Perks said. He also said at times he would sail across the water to meet Scarpati-Reilly. "I'd pick her up at the Centerport Boat Yard."
"It's the most disgusting allegation," Scarpati-Reilly said of the charge. " It comes down to the trashy novel - - -."
Her husband of 18 years, Steve Reilly, agrees, and said Perks and the town board member were once friends and that Perks is lashing out by twisting the nature of that relationship.
A key piece of evidence in the fray are receipts from the Mohonk House in New Paltz dated June 15, 1998. Perks says he and Scarpati-Reilly spent that weekend together, and that she gave him the receipts to hide from her husband. However, Steve Reilly charges that's impossible, saying he and his wife celebrated his 51st birthday together that weekend at the hotel.
"That's when I knew it was all a lie," Reilly said. "Up until that point nobody knows what's the truth with their spouse - but when he said that I knew he was lying."
The situation reached the boiling point and became public on the night of Feb. 28, 1999, at the Mobil Oil terminal in Cold Spring Harbor. Scarpati-Reilly and Perks had a heated confrontation and each charges that they were slapped by the other.
Scarpati-Reilly filed a police report, a fact she first denied then admitted in interviews. She said she initially lied to the press because Perks threatened to hurt her physically and press a sexual harassment lawsuit if she didn't lie about the incident. Perks says that never happened.
The Mobil Oil terminal incident prompted the town to hire independent fact finder and New York City attorney Gerald Labush to investigate the matter. In the meantime, Perks filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Scarpati-Reilly and the town.
Last May, the fact finder concluded that during his inquiry Scarpati-Reilly may not have testified accurately about the incident and may have violated state law and the town ethics code - which she helped author. The matter was turned over to the town's Ethics and Financial Disclosure board to decide whether Scarpati-Reilly acted beyond her duty in her dealings with Perks.
Last August, Scarpati-Reilly sued her fellow town board members and other town officials because she said they hadn't turned over paperwork she needed to defend herself in the ethics board investigation. Earlier this year, the ethics board found that her dealings with Perks had an "appearance of impropriety."
Scarpati-Reilly, in turn, scored a legal victory in February when a judge ordered the town to turn over the paperwork she said officials had withheld.
Since then, a steady stream of allegations has fueled the feud between Perks and Scarpati-Reilly. Tales of late-night phone calls, threatening letters, stalking, five-hour sex marathons, lawsuits and counter-suits and charges that each is a liar have been hurled back and forth by both in interviews.
Town officials and employees say the resulting ballyhoo has at times upset the flow of business in town hall, strained relations among town employees, and has racked up an ever rising tide of legal bills.
The two main characters at the center of the saga are both lauded and denounced in town hall's inner circles.
Some staffers and colleagues describe Scarpati-Reilly as a woman persecuted by the town's political powers. But behind her back, others call her "Cruella," after the Disney villainess, and say she is "delusional."
"Anytime she has a disagreement with somebody, she accuses people of things," said Democratic town board member and attorney Marlene Budd, who says that Scarpati-Reilly once accused her of professional misconduct.
However, Robert DeGregorio, a longtime friend of both Scarpati-Reilly and Perks, said Scarpati-Reilly is an advocate for the people.
"She believes government isn't sitting around dividing the pie," he said.
Perks' supporters have said he is an intelligent man with "real talent" at his job. Critics counter that at times he can act "like a wild animal, ranting and raving," and that his 60-plus grievances against the town - allegations in the complaints filed between 1980 and 1999 range from sexual harassment by a male co-worker to unfair treatment by supervisors - are the symptoms of "a chronic complainer."
"Am I Perks' friend? Yes," said Don McKay, a town employee, "Do I agree with all of his grievances? No. Has he been a little overzealous in filing grievances against the town? Yes."
But when it comes to the matter of the night-time visits, Perks is not lying, said Arthur Simpson, a neighbor whose boat is docked just a few feet from Perks'.
"I saw her many times, at all times of night," said Simpson, who added he spends many nights on his boat. "I can't believe that woman, saying she never saw the houseboat."
And in the most recent twist, the plot thickened when Perks' Northport-based attorney, Edward Yule, hired a forensic scientist to collect hair and body fluid on Perks' boat to validate his claims that the two had an affair. Yule said if need be he will seek a court order to force Scarpati-Reilly to give samples to check for a match.
Scarpati-Reilly and Perks share common ground on one matter, though. Both said the issue is being prolonged by officials in town hall to wreck Scarpati-Reilly's political career.
"I think you have two separate things," Steve Reilly said. "You have Perks, who's not dealing with a full deck, and then you have the political aspect that they're letting this thing go on to destroy her."
It is a charge town officials deny. "I think it's hypocritical that the two of them are suing each other, running up legal fees, then accusing the town board," said Democratic town board member Steve Israel. "Why don't they drop their lawsuits."
And taxpayers are footing the bill.
As of February, the tally on attorneys' fees and a fact finder's investigation alone was $ 96,870. However, this does not include March's total or the cost of related legal fees.
And that's before the discovery phase of the lawsuit, which is set to begin this spring, has even started. This also does not include the legal fees and other money the town will have to pay if Perks wins his lawsuit.
Israel said attorneys representing the town recently suggested the parties go into binding arbitration. Attorneys representing Scarpati-Reilly's have filed a federal motion to dismiss Perks' lawsuit. They are awaiting a judge's response before they will consider binding arbitration, town attorneys said. Perks' attorney is willing to go into binding arbitration but not before certain stipulations are met.
Ultimately, Scarpati-Reilly and Perks agree that their respective careers and their lives will never will be the same in light of the alleged sex scandal. Scarpati-Reilly said colleagues and members of her own party have come to her and asked her to step down. Perks felt so uncomfortable working in the same building as Scarpati-Reilly that he asked to be moved - he now works out of a trailer at the town's landfill.
Scarpati-Reilly said she is "a survivor" and that she plans on running again for council office in 2001.
"I'm tired of all these false allegations," she said. "I don't want to litigate to clear my name, which will never be cleared because people will always have lingering doubts. I have to fight this to the bitter end."
Though also looking forward to his day in court, Perks said he feels both his and Scarpati-Reilly's careers and lives have been forever altered.
"There are some wonderful things about Susan Scarpati-Reilly, just like I could convince you that there are some wonderful things about me," Perks said. " But the bottom line is that we're both ruined."