Monday, August 06, 2007

Just Where Does The Buck Stop In Hempstead Town?

Not At The Desk Of Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Apparently?

I’m the ultimately responsible person in this organization. Other people can pass the buck to me, but I can’t pass the buck to anyone else.
- - President Harry S. Truman

If "hear no evil, see no evil" were ever personified ("do no evil" being an entirely different animal), Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray would be their living embodiment.

First it was the Building's Chief, who turned his Levittown Cape -- in Kate Murray's hometown, on her very street -- into a McMansion, complete with an illegal apartment, all without permits. Kate Murray saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing, and did nothing -- at least not until Newsday broke the story.

Then it was full-time benefits for part-time town employees-- and even health premium payments for the deceased. Kate Murray didn't seem to mind, until the press coverage opened the floodgates, and the public expressed outrage.

Now, the Town of Hempstead Building Department is under siege once agiain, with complaints of shoddy inspections -- or the issuance of official paperwork without any inspection whatsoever -- and the Supervisor, who turned the other cheek to the shortcomings of her underlings, now calling for resignations and reviews.

Could it be that Kate Murray didn't know what was going on right under her smiling face -- literally?

How could that be? We all knew -- or certainly suspected -- that things were amiss at the Town of Hempstead Building Department, if not elsewhere at Town Hall.

The signs -- especially those unlawful ones that line "Main Street" -- were dead giveaways.

Why are there so many illegal accessory apartments, particularly those troublesome, illegal basement apartments, in Hempstead Town?

Why has code enforcement, in everything from housing to commercial to sanitation, been so lax as to be rendered nonexistent?

Why do the favored and the faithful have their day, month, and year, while everyone else gets squat?

And why does Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray act so surprised at the corruption, incompetence, and impropriety that pervade Town government?

It would be sad, if not incredulous, to say Kate Murray didn't know what she claims flew below her radar; that which is rampant and wrong in Hempstead Town only coming to light by dint of the diligence of ace investigative reporters at Newsday.

Supervisor Murray, by latest press reports, is now looking to shake things up at Hempstead Town Hall. Too late for that, Kate. A sprinkler system or fire alarm in place after the barn has burned to the ground will do little good.

The only way to clean out and clean up Hempstead Town Hall -- short of the enema suggested a few years back at a GOP function by none other than Al D'Amato himself -- is for a much needed and too long delayed regime change.

The buck, and the taxpayer's buck, at that, should stop at the Supervisor's desk at Town Hall. Change, if not accountability, must come from the top.

A call for resignations at Hempstead Town Hall? Absolutely.

With not only sanitary districts and water districts beyond the Supervisor's control (not to mention zoning, planning, and code enforcement), her own department heads and in-house employees running amuck, if not afoul of the law, in terms of resignations, Ms. Murray should seriously consider her own.
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Hempstead town appointee's resignation sought
By Eden Laikin

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray has called for the resignation of Plumbing Examiners board member Anthony Disabato, a town appointee named this week as a defendant in a civil racketeering lawsuit filed against the town.

Murray said that if Disabato does not resign, she will call for his removal at Tuesday's town board meeting.

"In light of recent circumstances, I believe it would be inappropriate to allow Mr. Disabato to continue serving on the Plumbing Examiners board," Murray said.

John Powers, an attorney for Disabato, declined to comment.

The supervisor also is calling for a special prosecutor to move forward with building code violation charges filed last year in district court in Hempstead against Disabato and two other contractors named in the civil suit, for the same incident.

In March 2006, the town brought charges against Disabato, Carlos Jaramillo, who is an employee of Disabato's private plumbing firm and Matthew Schwan, a general contractor, for maintaining unsafe conditions during renovations at the home of Janice Crippen, a Baldwin resident.

The town alleges that Disabato and Jaramillo maintained a "dangerous condition" at Crippen's house, by leaving plumbing work in the lower level in an "unsafe and unsanitary manner."All three men were arraigned last year on charges of violating town code, but the men now face superseding charges of violating the same code and will be arraigned on those next month.

Crippen's attorney, Ken Mollins of Melville, filed the rarely used civil suit under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Mineola. The suit alleges that town officials conspired with the general contractor to hide Disabato's connections to the botched plumbing job.

Hempstead officials said the RICO Act complaint, as it relates to a conspiracy by Town of Hempstead officials, has no merit.The complaint also alleges that town building inspectors advised Crippen to bring her complaints - which included improper ventilation, disconnected water pipes and inadequate space to install a toilet - to the town examination board. She said she had no idea when she spoke to Disabato - a member of the four-member board since 2003 - that his company held the plumbing permit for her home.

Mollins said yesterday that a special prosecutor should have been hired a year ago when the charges were filed.

"For the town to prosecute one of their own, who they work together with on a daily basis, it creates an appearance of impropriety," Mollins said.

The complaint also alleges that a building department employee falsified town inspection records in order to cover up for Disabato. Crippen alleges that inspector Carmine Salute approved the plumbing work without ever coming to her home.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
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Hempstead to review prior building inspections
By Eden Laikin and Collin Nash;

Hempstead officials are re-examining hundreds of properties in the town approved by two building inspectors the town says certified shoddy plumbing and construction projects at two homes in Merrick.

One couple complained to the town last month that plumbing inspector Carmine Salute examined and approved shoddy plumbing work at their home after the walls had been sealed, and that building inspector Douglas Knab approved construction despite improperly installed beams and exposed wiring. A second Merrick homeowner complained that Knab improperly approved foundation construction and drainage at a house being built next door.

After the couple complained to Hempstead officials, the town examined the house.

"We were not happy at all with some of the work performed by the inspectors," said town spokesman Mike Deery, who added that construction had been halted at the second Merrick home pending the results of the town's investigation. The town also will re-examine the Merrick couple's home before issuing a certificate of occupancy, Deery said.

"We found a number of areas of concern," Deery said of the couple's home. "We noted work that was not according to plan and some not according to state code. ... We don't find it acceptable when inspectors don't perform their jobs adequately."

Supervisor Kate Murray said she was "extremely disappointed and dissatisfied with what has come out of this complaint.

"The sweeping re-examination follows news that a Baldwin resident earlier this week filed a civil racketeering suit against the town and Salute, alleging he approved botched plumbing work at her home months before he ever went there.

"If the inspectors filled out a report and were not there, that raises serious legal questions and is undoubtedly a breach of their duties," said Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who requested the town inquiry into the couple's complaint. "If, on the other hand, they were there, this work is so deficient that you really have to question what really went down here."

The Nassau district attorney is investigating the Merrick couple's complaint as part of an ongoing probe of the building department sparked by complaints that inspectors illegally issued permits in exchange for favors, according to a source close to the probe.

Hempstead's building department has been rocked this year by scandal. Commissioner John Loeffel and other officials renovated their houses without permits, for which Loeffel was forced to resign, and inspectors were found to be working without required valid driver's licenses that had been suspended for drunken driving.

Deery said Friday the town will place written reprimands in the personnel files of Salute and Knab for "their deficiency in performance of duty" in the case of the Merrick couple. The town also will review inspections the two men did at hundreds of residential and commercial properties, including private homes, condos, office buildings and retail shops.

The town also will begin refresher training courses in town code for all building inspectors starting Monday.

In November, the Merrick couple filed a lawsuit against Baumblit Construction of Bellmore, alleging shoddy work and seeking $250,000 in actual damages. Their attorney, Christopher McCabe of Manhattan, said the lawsuit will be amended to include the Town of Hempstead, for negligence.

"What's the use of having a building department if they are not going to do their jobs to protect the public?" he said.

Vladimir Baumblit, a principal of the construction firm, denied the allegations Friday.

Knab, a town employee since 1995 who earns $76,306 a year, failed to properly conduct inspections of the foundations and drainage of the second Merrick home, according to the neighbor's complaint. The town has halted construction while it re-examines the work.

Neither Knab nor Salute, a town employee since 1997 who earns $85,869 a year, could be reached for comment.

Hempstead's building department has been rocked by a series of scandals.

FEBRUARY 2007: Hempstead Building Commissioner John Loeffel resigns after it is revealed he added a second floor and an illegal apartment to his Levittown home without permits and without paying proper taxes.

MARCH 2007: Seven more Hempstead building department employees applied to legalize home renovations that already had been completed.

MAY 2007: Newsday learns the town violated its own civil service rules by allowing an employee who lost his license after being charged with drunken driving to continue working as a code enforcement officer in its building department - despite its own stipulation that his position requires a valid driver's license. Three other employees were convicted on similar charges since 2001 and were allowed to work at least 30 days without licenses, in violation of civil service regulations.

MAY 2007: Hempstead Town suspends code enforcement officer Stephen Centore for 60 days after it found he illegally maintained a two-family rental in a single-family house he owns in Franklin Square.

JULY 31: A Baldwin homeowner files a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead and two employees, claiming they conspired with a contractor to hide a town employee's connections to a botched plumbing job at her home. - EDEN LAIKIN

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.


  1. There wouldn't be such a high demand for illegal basement apartments if the town zoned more areas for small apartment buildings, especially near business districts and train stations.

  2. What are you talking about? There was no illegal basement apartment involved at all in this news report.

    A building permit was approved.