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Freeport Village News
October 2001

October 13, 2001

Mob/Village Attorney Caught Dealing In The Dark
Local Businessmen Fight For Parking (Part 1)


By Stewart Lilker
.

Mob/Village attorney, Harrison J. Edwards, whose moniker is the "Prince of Darkness," recently went into secret negotiations with Paul Conte, owner of Paul Conte Chevrolet, to sell him one of Freeport’s municipal parking fields for storage of his automobiles. With the Village coffers running dry, Edwards excluded everyone else from the negotiations. The municipal parking field is located behind Conte Chevrolet and three other business, which also front Sunrise Hwy., Gale Beauty Supply, Trius Electric and NuMerit Electrical Supply. These three business, as well as others in the area, all use the municipal lot for employee and customer parking.

Robert Dipolito, who is a partner of Trius Electric, along with his brother Tom Dipolito, referring to his notes, told FNYN, "In the summer of 2000 I heard rumors that the lot was going to be sold. I called the Building Department, Public Works, and the Mayor’s office four times. Nobody knew anything and I was blown off. Then around that time, I was walking out of Akles Deli [located at the entrance to the parking lot] and I saw some people surveying the lot. I asked them what was going on and they told me that they were surveying the lot for the Village."

Dipolito continued, "Two or three days after I saw the surveyors, one of my guys dropped his personal car off at Chevrolet. He mentioned to one of Conte’s workers something about the parking and was told, ‘Don’t worry about it, we are supposed to be buying the lot.’"

Dipolito said that it was after this that he again began making phone calls to the Village, attempting to find out what really was going on. He said that he called the Village, threatening legal action and it was only then he was told the lot was going to be sold and he would have to file a Freedom of Information request to get the name of the proposed buyer. Dipolito didn’t file the request.

Dipolito claims that it was in or about October of 2000 that, "I was called by the Mayor’s office and was told by a woman that the [sale of the parking] lot did not have to go public and it was not necessary to notify us."

Dipolito spoke to the other business owners in the area and they were all furious at the loss of their parking. Dipolito’s pressure appeared to pay off when a meeting was scheduled for December 27, 2000 in the Mayor’s office.

According to Dipolito, at 1:30 p.m. on December 27th, he, along with his brother Tom, and Ted Sheridan of NuMerit Electrical Supply, met with Edwards and the Superintendent of Public Works, Lou DiGrazia.

At the meeting, Dipolito said he asked about buying the lot. According to Dipolito, Edwards said, "Only Conte can buy the lot. It is not an option for others to buy."

Dipolito said that when he told Edwards that they were against the sale of the municipal parking lot, Edwards said he would redraw the plans.

Dipolito, referring to his notes, said that Edwards indicated that Chevrolet required on-site storage for it cars at a dealership.

By February of 2001, Paul Conte, who had at one time owned many of the lots around his dealership, had sold, or agreed to sell, all of them. As a result, Paul Conte Chevrolet had eliminated all of its on site parking.

On March 12, 2001 Dipolito and other business owners met with Edwards and DiGrazia. Once again, Edwards indicated that the only purchaser of the municipal lot could be Conte.

On May 22, 2001, Dipolito filed a Freedom of Information Request [FOIL] asking for among other things, "minutes of meetings ... pertaining to municipal lot Number 3 ..."

On June 1, 2001, Tom Dipolito met with Brian Conte about the parking lot. Conte told him that he was going to pay $10 a foot for the parking lot and $2 a foot for the easement area.

There is no indication that an appraisal of municipal lot number 3 has ever been requested or completed. This property is prime real estate, located within a three minute walk from the Freeport train station. Traffic experts have estimated that along this stretch of Sunrise Hwy., forty-six thousand cars pass every day.

On June 4, 2001, the Village Clerk responded to Dipolito's May 22nd FOIL request, stating, "As per your freedom of information request regarding municipal parking lot #3. We have no information on file.

According to the opinions of the NYS Comptroller, village property may not be sold or conveyed unless the "village board has first determined that the property is no longer needed for village purposes." The Village has never declared municipal lot number 3 surplus property.

The NYS Comptroller has also said that " ... municipal lands which are impressed with a public trust may not be alienated without specific State legislative authority." "[And] that lands held for the purpose of public parking are similarly impressed with a public trust and, therefore, are inalienable without express authorization from the State Legislature."

The NYS Comptroller has advised that "to eliminate any question of a village's authority under section 1-102 [Village Law] to convey property used as a parking facility, the safest course for a village to follow would be to seek a special act of the State Legislature to authorize a conveyance of land dedicated to use as a public parking lot." Freeport has never gone to the State Legislature to ask for authorization to declare municipal parking lot number 3 surplus property.

On September 13, 2001, Dipolito said that he was told that, "The Board of Trustees could meet behind closed doors and sell the property to Conte with no notice."

Also on September 13, 2001, Dipolito and the local merchants sent letters to the Mayor, the Board of Trustees and Edwards stating their opposition to the plans to sell the parking lot to Paul Conte Chevrolet and emphatically stating among other things that, "... the only person to benefit from this sale will be Paul Conte Chevrolet with a detrimental impact to all the business in the area." The merchants asked to be advised of all future developments and requested that "any proceeding concerning the disposition of [parking] field #3 be held at a public hearing.

On September 17, 2001, Trius Electric, sent a letter to Mayor Glacken requesting the opportunity to bid on the parking lot.

The NYS Comptroller has said, "Public property must be sold for the best price obtainable with reasonable diligence..."

On September 20, 2001, the Dipolitos hand-delivered letters to all the Trustees. The letter began, "We the property owners and businessmen surrounding the municipal parking field #3 are aware of the proposed plans to sell or transfer ownership to Paul Conte Chevrolet in a closed door executive session." The letter continued, "... it seems to be a private deal between the Mayor and Paul Conte. We have already consulted an attorney who considers this whole action to be illegal ..."

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