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Town to appoint special prosecutor in code officer case

Hempstead Town code enforcement officer Roy Gunther Jr.

Hempstead Town code enforcement officer Roy Gunther Jr. was charged with a violation for debris allegedly left at his Oceanside home, seen on July 17, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A Hempstead Town deputy attorney said in court Thursday that the town is appointing a special prosecutor to take over a case against a municipal code enforcement officer who allegedly let debris pile up outside his Oceanside home.

Deputy town attorney Brad Regenbogen said during an appearance in District Court in Hempstead that the town is working to appoint a special prosecutor in the case against Roy Gunther Jr.

Regenbogen did not say why the town is seeking a new prosector during his brief remarks in front of Judge Paul Meli. Gunther and his attorney, Michael Elbaz of Manhattan, declined to comment Thursday after the court appearance.

The appointment of a special prosecutor is to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” town spokesman Mike Deery said. The town will hire an outside private attorney to handle the case, he said.

The case has been adjourned until Sept. 19.

Gunther was charged in May with a violation after he allegedly let garbage and construction debris pile up at his home during renovations to repair superstorm Sandy damage from 2012.

An “on-site field inspection” at his Riverside Drive home by a co-worker found “brick piles, milk crates, a sink, a toilet bowl, and varying garbage and construction debris stored on the property at the exterior of the dwelling,” court documents state.

Gunther received two other summonses for not having a permit to disconnect a gas meter, but the charges were dropped because the building inspector wrote the wrong date on the ticket, Deery said last month.

Deery said a contractor, James Marinello Construction Co. Inc. of Merrick, left the debris there after working to raise Gunther’s home, but charges are always filed against the property’s owner, not the contractor.

On Wednesday, James Marinello said his company has not worked at the home since November, and added that his employees only did framing for the house, not the demolition.

Gunther is not believed to have been living at the home at the time and may not have been aware of the violations, Deery said. The debris was cleaned up soon after the summons was issued. Fines for the violation could reach $500 but are set at the court’s discretion.

Gunther has worked for the town since 1999 and is listed as a “code enforcement officer III” in the building department at an annual salary of $125,333, according to 2016 town payroll records.

Daniel Russo, a Garden City attorney who is chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association’s Criminal Law and Procedure Committee, said the town’s appointment of a special prosecutor at the beginning of the case avoids any potential future allegations of impropriety.

“It levels the playing field before anyone can ask questions,” he said.

If Gunther got a different outcome in his case than “a Mr. Jones who was cited for the same thing, Mr. Jones would say, ‘Well, that guy got a better deal than I did because he works for the town,’ ” Russo said.

The special prosecutor is supposed to have “full reign” in litigating the case, he said.

“The town is completely hands-off,” Russo said. “They will have absolutely no say in how the case is resolved.”

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