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Thatched Cottage bankruptcy case to question Huntington officials

Thatched Cottage located at 445 East Main St.

Thatched Cottage located at 445 East Main St. in Centerport on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge on Tuesday directed the Town of Huntington to produce officials to testify in the Thatched Cottage bankruptcy case — a move that could provide evidence for the property’s bankruptcy trustee to sue the town for allegedly interfering with selling the event venue.

Huntington officials condemned the Centerport facility Nov. 20, 2014, four days before the high-bidder, Hicksville-based Suzan Tina Properties, was supposed to close on the sale. The company’s executive director, Yama Raj, has said the town’s condemnation was a significant factor in the deal falling through.

R. Kenneth Barnard, the Wantagh-based trustee for the shuttered property, had asked the court to hold the town in contempt and sought an order to compel town officials’ testimony and the production of documents.

Barnard has until Feb. 16 to file a lawsuit against the town. He sought a contempt order because the town had failed to comply with a March order instructing the town to produce the relevant people and documents, court filings show.

“The Town of Huntington has engaged in a 10 month campaign designed to hinder and delay the trustee’s investigation of claims,” David Blansky, Barnard’s attorney, said in court documents.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Grossman on Tuesday declined to hold the town in contempt after Lee J. Mendelson, the Garden City-based attorney representing Huntington in the case, confirmed that the town would make the officials available.

“We will comply with the court’s directive,” Mendelson said.

Barnard wants the testimony from Huntington officials before deciding whether to sue the town.

“The question is, did members of the town conspire?” Grossman said in court Tuesday, summarizing what Barnard is hoping to determine from the depositions.

Mendelson filed a motion last week asking the court to rescind the March order. He argued Tuesday that the people and documents Barnard wants should be released through the discovery process after the trustee files a lawsuit, not before.

But Grossman noted that the town had long agreed to comply with the order, and had sought extra time in emails and other correspondence exchanged with Barnard’s attorney. The judge said Mendelson should have raised his argument earlier instead of waiting two weeks before Barnard’s year-long window to sue expires.

“You sent a series of emails to that trustee for months, stringing him along,” Grossman said.

When the judge asked why the town had sought to avoid the depositions, Mendelson said Huntington officials didn’t want to give the trustee and his attorneys the opportunity “to go fishing.”

Huntington officials have said they had to condemn the cottage after its original owner, Ralph Colamussi, provided engineering reports that concluded the building was dangerous.

The officials Barnard is seeking to question are Joseph F. Cline, the director of the Department of Public Safety; Richard Vacchio, senior building inspector; former director of Public Safety Kenneth Lindahl; and Janet Rinker, co-head of the Division of Code Enforcement. Rinker is Colamussi’s sister.

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