A North Hempstead building inspector terminated last month has filed suit against the town, alleging it was retaliating against him for testifying against a town official four years ago in a bribery trial.
But a spokesman said Robert Schroeter was dismissed after a town investigation in conjunction with the Nassau County district attorney's office, and said that the town had brought numerous disciplinary charges against him for allegedly forging government documents, misusing his office and other ethical violations.
Schroeter, a town building inspector since 1984, served as a prosecution witness in the trial of then-fellow building inspector Thomas McDonough. McDonough was acquitted in June 2008 and went back to work for the town, according to court documents.
Schroeter last week filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, Eastern District, against the town, McDonough, Supervisor Jon Kaiman, planning Commissioner Michael Levine, Board of Zoning and Appeals special counsel Gerard Terry and town attorney Richard Finkel. Schroeter, who seeks reinstatement and unspecified damages, charges that his First Amendment rights of free speech were violated.
Beginning in September 2008, Schroeter claims he was mistreated: by being moved into a smaller office, denied opportunities to earn overtime and having his town vehicle and cellphone taken away. Schroeter was suspended in May 2011, and terminated April 5 for cause, according to court papers.
Schroeter also says that town and county investigations into his personal affairs were launched improperly "for the ulterior motive of creating sufficient cause" to terminate him, according to the complaint.
Schroeter's attorney, Rick Ostrove, of Carle Place, said, "They took action against him because he cooperated with the district attorney's office and gave testimony against top-level officials in the town."
Town spokesman Collin Nash said the town brought 93 disciplinary charges against Schroeter for "violations of ethical, legal and municipal standards. The charges assert that his illicit conduct had occurred over a number of years and involve a sweeping array of corrupt practices that include forging government documents, false representations to government officials, the misuse of his office for his own personal and financial gain, and the obstruction of government administration."
Ostrove wrote in an email, "The DA has been investigating the Town's Building Department for years and has never charged Mr. Schroeter with any wrongdoing."
The district attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During McDonough's trial, prosecutors alleged that McDonough extorted a $900 campaign contribution from a builder in exchange for inspecting the dry well at a Roslyn Heights house. The money was for tickets to a May 2005 fundraiser that McDonough organized for Kaiman.
On the stand, Schroeter said the builder, Mansour Zarabi, told him that McDonough stood over the dry well talking on a cellphone with an unidentified person to find out whether Zarabi's check had cleared.