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John Kennedy hires lawyer to enforce subpoena for bid records

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. ,

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. , seen here on June 30, 2017. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. has hired an outside attorney to enforce his subpoena after county parks officials refused to turn over records in the bidding process to replace Beach Hut as the concessionaire at three county beaches.

Kennedy retained attorney Peter Bee of Mineola late Monday.

County Executive Steve Bellone hired attorney Mark Cuthbertson, a Huntington Town Board member, after County Attorney Dennis Brown sent Kennedy a letter Friday refusing to produce subpoenaed documents by the March 8 deadline.

Earlier, Brown issued a legal opinion saying the subpoena exceeded Kennedy’s authority because “procurement is an administrative function” and Kennedy can get documents only after the process is complete. Brown recused himself from representing either side in the legal dispute.

The dispute arose after Kennedy’s still-unreleased audit of Beach Hut led to criminal pleas in December by the corporation and its owner, Fred Marsillio, that resulted in $1.14 million in fines, restitution and interest for shortchanging the county and Babylon Town on sales tax and fees.

The pleas led the county to cancel Beach Hut’s contracts, which had lasted 18 years. The company’s bar and food service, accompanied by nightly rock music, at Suffolk’s oceanfront Smith Point Park in Shirley and Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton, and bayfront Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays, generated $2.8 million a year in revenue for Beach Hut.

The comptroller’s office subpoenaed records connected to the March 1 bid opening for a new concessionaire when parks officials declined to supply documents voluntarily. Four potential concessionaires made bids to run all three sites, while Cupsogue and Meschutt each attracted three additional bids, said Parks Commissioner Philip Berdolt. He said a decision could come as soon as Friday.

The hiring of attorneys represents the latest salvo between Republican Kennedy, who faces re-election this fall, and Democrat Bellone, who is up for re-election in 2019. Kennedy is considered a possible Bellone opponent next year.

“Comptroller Kennedy has refused to withdraw his illegal subpoena and is now wasting taxpayer money on this political stunt,” said Jason Elan, spokesman for Bellone. “We told Kennedy he could have all the documents after the process is completed, but he refused.”

Kennedy concedes he has no role in the decision making or grading of bid proposals. But he said the unreleased audit findings about Beach Hut led his office to launch a “performance audit” to make recommendations to help improve the selection process for a new concessionaire.

“Any expense to enforce the subpoena pales in comparison to outright illegal conduct and misappropriation of funds that occurred in the last contract,” said Kennedy. “We just want to make sure taxpayers get what they deserve — a fair arrangement where the deck is not stacked against them.”

Richard Schaffer, Babylon Town supervisor, who canceled Beach Hut’s contracts with the town, has formed an outside committee to help sort out the 15 concession proposals at four town parks and beaches. Schaffer, also the Suffolk Democratic Party chairman, said he has conferred with Kennedy aides about possibly assisting the town.

“It just makes sense to use the people who investigated and reviewed the previous operator,” said Schaffer, whose relations with Bellone often are strained. “We’re grateful they’ve made themselves available to us.”

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