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Charges of “Bribes” Roil Huntington Town Board Meeting



By Maureen Daly

 

The controversial multi-billion dollar proposal to build thousands of high-density Apartments in Melville exploded in chaos at last week’s Huntington Town Board meeting, with accusations that Council members were hiring people as “bribes,” speakers shouted down by Town Supervisor Ed Smyth, and the person hired shunted-off into a newly created make-work Town job.

 

The meeting saw the transfer of the person hired – after only 40 days on the job – to a newly-created position in the Comptroller’s office.  

 

During the course of the regular April 11th Town Board meeting, several speakers were invited by Smyth to speak in favor of the Melville apartments proposal. They included developers, construction contractors, and their urban-planning attorneys.

 

Then town resident Cynthia Clark took the podium to speak against the proposal, and questioned Councilman Sal Ferro on a series of meetings he had with the Melville Fire Department.

 

“Mr. Ferro neglected to mention two weeks ago, he hired as his legislative secretary the daughter of a longtime Melville Fire Commissioner,” said Clark. “To move this forward, you would need approval of Fire Authorities.”

 

Supervisor Smyth then cut her off, shouting angrily at Clark, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

 

Clark responded, “Are you suggesting she hired herself? I was simply describing an action that on the surface could be viewed as a bribe.”

 

Councilman Ferro responded “I’m surprised how deep you are digging. You have nothing…”

 

Insults followed as Clark returned to her seat.

 

Later in the meeting, another woman argued with Councilman Ferro for close to 10 minutes about Melville. At one point he facetiously remarked that the woman should speak to his aide, “the one I bribed…”

 

The controversy surrounds the hiring of Victoria Schuler, age 25, as a Legislative Aide to Ferro, at a salary of about $57,000. Schuler is a close relative of Melville Fire Commissioner James Schuler.

 

After the accusations of bribery, Smyth voted to create a new make-work job in the Town, and on April 16th signed an Employment Authorization Form (EAF) to transfer Schuler out of Ferro’s office and into the newly created position of “Confidential Secretary” in the Audit and Control Office. Schuler's salary was kept the same.

 

Schuler is a 2018 graduate of Commack High School and worked as a junior realtor agent at Douglas Elliman. Prior to being hired, she had no significant experience in government or finance.

 

Charges and counter-charges of improper favors and bribes by the Huntington Town Board are now roaring through social media.


In addition, this newspaper has received credible information from a Town employee that a Town Board member offered “Free Condominiums” in the proposed Melville development to members of the Melville Fire Department, if the fire department would politically sign-on to the Melville proposal.


The Town Board member who made those offers was urged to seek approval of the Town’s Ethics Counsel before offering “free condos” in exchange for political support, however, no Ethics Opinion is on file.


"The offering of official acts as a "quid pro quo" for private or political benefits is a serious criminal felony under the federal Honest Services Fraud statute and the federal Wire Fraud and Conspiracy laws," stated Mark Demetropoulos, a constitutional and white-collar criminal attorney. "The recent US Court of Appeals Second Circuit decision in United States v Brian Benjamin (2024 - No 22-3091) - the former New York Lieutenant Governor - makes clear that any government money spent, or official government acts given or promised in exchange for any personal or political benefit is illegal and will be prosecuted.

Former Lt Gov Brian Benjamin is now facing trial and over 20 years in federal prison.


"And the hiring of a person - expending public money for political reasons - or transferring them into a position for political reasons - could also violate New York State's criminal laws against official misconduct, abuse of governmental position or authority, and official corruption," added Demetropoulos. "People might remember that former Town Supervisor John Venditto was arrested and pled guilty just six years ago for the illegal hiring of a person to a make-work Town job."

"One of my former clients, now serving time in a federal prison, always used to tell me 'It’s always the cover-up that gets you...'"


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