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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

GOP uses tracking device to probe Assemb. Edward Hennessey's 3rd District residency

Edward Hennessey on June 27, 2014. State Supreme

Edward Hennessey on June 27, 2014. State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts ruled that Hennessey has a legal residence in Smith Point, despite Republican claims that the Democrat actually resides in East Moriches, outside the 3rd Assembly District. Photo Credit: James Escher

It looks like it's not only gangsters who have to go out each morning and check under their cars before turning on the ignition -- now, local politicians may have to as well.

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, according to local GOP officials, hired a private investigator who took the unusual step of attaching a hidden electronic tracking device under the car of Democratic Assemb. Edward Hennessey for two months to try to prove he doesn't live in the 3rd District.

Details surfaced last month during a State Supreme Court hearing in a case in which former Republican Assemb. Dean Murray, who is looking to win back his seat in the November election, tried unsuccessfully to knock Hennessey off the ballot on the residency issue.

Private investigator Adam Rosenblatt, of Commack, testified he installed a tracking device to the underside of Hennessey's gray Honda while the lawmaker, also a lawyer, was inside the Cohalan court complex in Central Islip on April 4. The monitoring lasted until June 7.

Hennessey said he was "outraged" by the ploy, saying it amounts to civil trespass and an invasion of privacy. But he said he is too busy with his re-election campaign to pursue the issue.

Several political observers say cybertracking breaks new ground and is enough to make even veteran officials nervous. "It absolutely crosses the line," said Desmond Ryan, veteran GOP lobbyist. "What's next . . . drones?"

Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman, makes no apologies. "The data clearly showed that Ed Hennessey went everywhere but the house at which he was registered to vote," Garcia said. He said Democratic state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts' ruling for Hennessey "smacks of clubhouse politics." Pitts did not return a call for comment.

When first elected two years ago, Hennessey did not need to live in the district because it was a once-a-decade reapportionment year -- when district lines are redrawn to reflect population shifts. Hennessey testified that in October 2013, he moved to a house in the Smith Point section of Shirley, in the district. His wife and two sons remained at their East Moriches home.

Lawrence Silverman, Hennessey's attorney, said much of the investigators' data were unreliable. The tracker's signal had to bounce off pavement to satellites or cell towers, and often was affected by rain and trees, leaving lengthy gaps, Silverman said. He also said Hennessey owns four cars while only one was tracked, and the data do not show who was driving.

"Investigators who want to determine the comings and goings . . . are required to track the individual, not the car," Silverman said.

Rosenblatt conceded he never tailed Hennessey. But the investigator said the GPS data show Hennessey visited the East Moriches address "on a much more regular basis" than the Shirley house, though he could not detail the number of times.

In his closing statement at the court hearing, Murray's attorney, William Duffy, said the data showed that Hennessey spent 32 nights in East Moriches, 14 in Shirley and 16 in Albany, and the lawmaker's "legitimate and significant" abode was East Moriches.

But Pitts, who was cross-endorsed last year by the GOP and Democrats, found "clear and convincing evidence" that Hennessey lives within the district even though he has two homes. Pitts said his review of the surveillance data showed that even if Hennessey visited his East Moriches house and left as late as 1 to 3 a.m., he spent "virtually every night" in Shirley.

"To my way of thinking, where you go every night to lay your head down is probably your primary residence," Pitts said in his ruling.

While the GOP never appealed, the lawsuit gave Murray and the Republicans a chance to make residency a campaign issue.

"At this point, politics is about what you can get on an opponent," said Michael Dawidziak, a consultant who works mainly for Republicans. "It comes down to throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks."

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