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Backyard treehouse builder files $3M suit against Babylon Village officials

A dispute over whether Babylon Village resident John

A dispute over whether Babylon Village resident John Lepper needed a permit to build this 86-square-foot treehouse in his backyard has prompted Lepper to file two federal lawsuits against the village and some of its officials. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

A Babylon Village homeowner entangled with village officials over the legality of a treehouse he started building in late spring 2018 has filed a second federal lawsuit against them.

According to court documents filed Jan. 4 in Central Islip in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, John Lepper said that as a result of the village’s actions he had "emotional scarring and suffering, and incurred significant cost and expenses due to the [village’s] actions."

The suit seeks $3 million in damages.

"I want this resolved and put behind me," said Lepper, who at the time built the treehouse for his son Bayden’s sixth birthday. "This has been a nightmare for me and my family for over two years."

Lepper argued that he didn’t need a building permit for the 86-square-foot treehouse, which officials said he did because of its size. A village judge ruled against Lepper in October 2018 and he paid a fine of $475. He appealed the decision, contending the structure is legal, and the decision was overturned in December 2019 based on a technical defect in the way the summons was written.

Lepper, an FDNY firefighter, said in court documents that village officials "conspired" to send a letter to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro to complain he wore his FDNY dress uniform to "gain special favoritism" in village court.

The second lawsuit lists as defendants the estate of former Mayor Ralph Scordino, who died in October, his successor, Mary Adams, outgoing village attorney Gerard Glass and other current and former village officials. Adams, Glass and the attorney representing the village in the lawsuit, Eric Tosca of Mineola, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Lepper’s attorney, Cory Morris of Melville, said the village is going after his client’s job.

"This is the persecution of John Lepper and that’s the reason why this suit was filed," Morris said.

Lepper, according to the lawsuit, said there are other "treehouse/unpermitted structures" close to the water in the village that officials should look at in comparison to what he has.

The first federal lawsuit, which is ongoing and also seeks damages, was filed in December 2018 by Lepper and his wife, Noelle. In the suit, the two allege officials at the time were "punishing" John Lepper and pursuing "personal animosity in violation of [his] civil and constitutional rights."

Both sides agreed that while the case remains in federal court, no work will be done to the treehouse and no fines will be issued.

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