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East Hampton trustees investigate secret recording in their office

Francis Bock, East Hampton Town trustee clerk, has

Francis Bock, East Hampton Town trustee clerk, has launched an investigation into a secret recording made in the town trustees' office in Amagansett. Credit: James Escher

East Hampton Town trustees have authorized an investigation into a secret recording made in their Amagansett office and have contacted the Suffolk County district attorney’s office about the probe.

The audio recording was made between October and February, and features the voices of several trustees and town residents discussing routine topics, people who have listened to it said. The nine-member trustee board is an elected governing body separate from the town board. It manages some public lands and does not pass legislation.

The recording's existence was disclosed by trustee clerk Francis Bock at the trustees' May 13 meeting. 

“I intend to pursue this as far as we can,” he said at the meeting.

Bock said in an interview that he has not listened to the recording, which he was made aware of it after an outside inquiry. He said its existence had been reported to the district attorney’s office.

On June 10, the board authorized spending up to $4,000 to allow attorney Tim Hoover of Hodgson Russ LLP, which has an office in New York City, investigate the recording.

Town residents said they were interviewed last week by investigators with the district attorney’s office. Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo wrote in an email that the district attorney’s office is “handling the case.” A spokeswoman for District Attorney Timothy Sini's office said it is their policy not to confirm or deny any open investigations.

East Hampton Town Independence Party chairwoman Elaine Jones, who was one of the people to receive an electronic copy of the anonymous recording, said investigators asked her whether she knew who had made it. She said she does not know who sent the “envelope in the mail the size of a thank-you note” that contained a thumb drive with the recording. Rona Klopman, a candidate for town trustee who has read a transcript of the recordings, and incumbent trustee Dell Cullum, who received and heard the recording, also said they were interviewed last week by district attorney investigators.

Cullum said he does not know who made the recording but said it contained profanity and unprofessional conduct.

"Some of the stuff that was said on there was really insensitive," Cullum said. "I don't appreciate the trustees operating as insensitively as I heard in a public office."

Bock said he believes the recording is politically motivated by people who oppose a wind farm planned to be off the Montauk coast.

Denmark-based Ørsted, formerly Deepwater Wind, is seeking approval from the trustees to install a power cable for its proposed 15-turbine wind farm at a Wainscott beach. The company is also considering burying the cable at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, although it says it prefers the Wainscott plan. The trustee board has not announced a decision. Wainscott residents have opposed the project.

Bock said the recordings began shortly after the board hired Hodgson Russ to advise it on the wind farm issue.

“It’s really hard to understand why someone would put themselves at the risk of going to jail over this board,” he said.

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