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Gillen says investigators have notes on strategies to deal with town contractor

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen in July discusses

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen in July discusses the contract extension for Dover Gourmet Corp., which operates concessions at Malibu Beach Park. She was against the extension. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said she gave local and federal law enforcement officials a copy of  handwritten notes from a parks department file last year that say the town was "looking the other way" on money a politically connected contractor owed the town.

The 35 pages of mostly unsigned handwritten notes, which the town provided Newsday in response to a public records request, repeatedly discuss strategies for dealing with the contractor, Dover Gourmet Corp., whose operations at town-owned facilities are being investigated by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. attorney subpoenaed Hempstead for records on Dover in August, shortly after Newsday reported the company had not paid rent on the town-owned Malibu Beach Park in nearly a year, accumulating a balance of $531,400. Newsday later reported that Dover had paid Joseph Cairo, now the Nassau County Republican Committee chairman, and Cairo’s son, Joseph Michael Cairo, more than $1 million over 10 years for legal and project management work at the beachside recreation complex.

The notes describe the situation with Dover as a possible "huge political scandal" and list strategies to prevent it from being disclosed publicly, stating it would be a "PR nightmare."

Many of the notes are undated, although some list dates in 2013 and 2014. One note says Dover was $282,000 in arrears. Newsday previously reported on town records showing that, in those years, Dover did not pay the town $674,600 in fees, including for rent at Malibu.

“Key to resolving: Persuading both parties that this is a story far better resolved privately than reading about in Newsday and potentially triggering DA/US Attorney investigation,” one note reads.

Gillen, a Democrat who lost her reelection bid to Republican Don Clavin in November, said the notes were in a parks department file on Malibu. She said her office sought town records last year on Malibu and the Sands on Lido Beach, another town-owned facility that Dover has run. Parks and Recreation oversees Dover’s operations at both properties.

"Upon review, I found certain contents deeply disturbing," Gillen said in a Dec. 3 statement. "I immediately turned these materials over to federal and local law enforcement officials." She declined to say to whom specifically she gave the notes, citing a federal investigation.

Gillen has criticized Dover, as well as town Parks Commissioner Daniel Lino and former Comptroller Kevin Conroy, who extended the company’s Malibu contract in April despite its debts to the town. Dover Chief Executive Butch Yamali has dismissed Gillen’s comments as politically motivated and said the town owed him for capital improvements he carried out at the facility.

Hempstead and the company are in litigation over the validity of the contract extension.

Gillen had sought to tie Yamali to alleged Republican corruption in her reelection bid. Clavin, Hempstead's longtime tax receiver, will lead a 6-1 Republican majority on the town board when he takes office in January.

Yamali did not respond to a request for comment on the notes. Clavin directed a request for comment to a spokesman, Michael Caputo, who said “the receiver can’t comment on matters that are under litigation.”

A note dated Oct. 17, 2013, was written on a letterhead that reads “From the Desk of Philip R. Brookmeyer.” It is addressed to “Joe B.” and signed “Phil.” Brookmeyer previously was a deputy town attorney, payroll records show. Joseph Bentivegna was the town parks commissioner until the end of 2015.

Brookmeyer's attorney, John N. Tasolides, said the New York Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys prohibit Brookmeyer from discussing the matter with Newsday. Tasolides specifically cited rules on confidential information and trial publicity.

The notes describe the situation with Dover as a “ticking time bomb” that had the “classic elements of a huge political scandal.”

That note continues: “Vendor w/ close ties to Republican Party leadership … owes town hundreds of thousands of dollars under license agreements and town, for all intensive purposes, is looking the other way [imagine front page headline in Newsday].”

Another note reads, under a header referencing Malibu and Sands: “Lack of enforcement [+ lack of definitive K for Sands] suggests appearance of conflict of interest / gross incompetence.”

“K” is a common abbreviation for “contract,” according to the Legal Information Institute. Gillen said in October that Dover does not have a contract to operate Sands. A spokesman for Yamali disputed that at the time, but did not respond to a request to provide Newsday a copy of the contract.

The notes list numerous strategies to “deal with B.Y.,” including auditing Dover’s finances, sending final payment notices and exercising the town’s “right to immediately terminate K for nonpayment.”

The author of the notes writes that there was “widespread knowledge” of the situation with Dover. “Entire town is culpable,” one note reads. Another appears to warn: “risk of disclosure high.”

Multiple notes list ways in which the issues with Dover could come to light, including a “‘whistleblower’ contacting Newsday,” a Freedom of Information request, and a “drunk employee at bar.”

The author calls public disclosure a “worst case scenario.”

“Careers will go up in flames," another note reads.

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