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Huntington Town board requests federal, state ethics investigation

Huntington Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson talks about his

Huntington Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson talks about his business ties to Gary Melius in his Huntington office Aug. 27, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Huntington Town Board voted Thursday to ask for a federal investigation into "allegations of unethical practices" against town board members, the ethics board and that panel's legal counsel.

The board also voted to ask the state comptroller's office to review and help strengthen the town's ethics code.

Board member Gene Cook, sponsor of the resolution for the federal investigation, said he has been inundated with requests from residents to ask federal authorities to look into possible ethical lapses in town.

Newsday reports beginning last month raised questions about receiverships and business relationships between board member Mark Cuthbertson and Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius. They also examined Cuthbertson's relationship with Robert Fonti, a property management consultant for the town and chairman of the Huntington Housing Authority.

Cuthbertson did not disclose the relationships before voting on town issues affecting Melius and Fonti.

On Oct. 20, the four-member town ethics board found no "technical ethical violation" in Cuthbertson's vote for a zoning change that allowed a condominium development proposed by Melius. The board has not been asked to review Cuthbertson's vote to renew Fonti's consulting contract.

"By doing this, we send it out there to allow the people who investigate these things to investigate," Cook said.

Town attorney Cindy Mangano advised the board that the state comptroller's office is the proper venue for an ethics review.

Board member Susan Berland later offered a resolution that asks Mangano's office to confer with the state comptroller's office and the Association of Towns of the state of New York for recommendations to bolster the town's ethics code, "to prohibit and deter any current or future departures from ethical practices."

Berland said, "If there are things that need to be changed, we need to change them and we have to start that process."

Cook said there may be issues beyond ethics violations that should be examined, "and that needs to be done through the U.S. attorney."

Both resolutions were approved by 5-0 votes at Thursday's town board meeting.

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