The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office served East Hampton Town with a subpoena last week, requesting information on the town’s Community Preservation Fund purchase of the 555 property in Amagansett in 2014—but neither town or state officials this week would discuss the reason the D.A.’s request.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who is the liaison to the town’s CPF Advisory Board, both said that they did not know why the D.A. wanted the information. Mr. Cantwell said the town was not involved in any investigation related to the 555 property purchase and that it would not be appropriate for him to comment about the information that the D.A.’s office requested.
“I’m at a loss,” Ms. Overby said. “If there is a problem, we certainly want to know about it and correct the problem.”
A spokesman for the D.A.’s office, Bob Clifford, declined to comment about why the subpoena was issued and a Freedom of Information Law request filed by The Press was not fulfilled by Tuesday.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who drafted the initial CPF legislation in the late 1990s, also did not know why the subpoena was issued, but said he was concerned about the town’s use of the CPF to purchase a barn on the property at 555 Montauk Highway in Amagansett. Mr. Thiele said the CPF—which is funded by a 2-percent real estate transfer tax and is intended to preserve open space and farmland— should only be used to purchase land and not buildings, unless they are historic.
But both Mr. Cantwell and Ms. Overby said they were confident in their choice to purchase the property with the barn on it, intending it to support the agricultural use.
The town’s $10.1 million purchase of 19 acres of the property was lauded by the Amagansett community in 2014 after developers Putnam Amagansett Holdings LLC, of Connecticut, had proposed building a 79-unit luxury senior housing complex on the property.
The town is slated to lease the land to farmers, although, a year after the sale, the town has not moved forward with the plan, and has considered other options. Under the state CPF code, the farmland can be used for any kind of agriculture, since it was used as farmland prior to the purchase. It was the Town Board’s intent to use the barn building to support any agriculture on the property on which it sits.
But even if the State Comptroller’s Office were to find the town in error in the purchase, it wouldn’t be a matter for the Suffolk County District Attorney to handle, according to Mr. Thiele.
“I have absolutely no idea why the District Attorney issued a subpoena for this particular file,” Mr. Thiele said. “Even though there is an issue with regard to the building bought with CPF funds, it shouldn’t be any concern to the D.A. I have no knowledge of it, but it strikes me that if the D.A. subpoenaed this particular file, it has to do with something other than the acquisition of this building.”
When reached on Tuesday, the attorney who represented Putnam Amagansett Holdings LLC., Mitchell Baker, said he had “no clue” about the subpoena and had not been contacted about the 555 purchase. Richard Principi, who owned the land before he sold it to Putnam, did not return a call before press time.