A that went out to Patchogue Village residents on Saturday stated that Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri is no longer a part of the Patchogue First organization for several reasons that include accusations of money laundering.
The letter, signed by Deputy Mayor Stephen McGiff and village trustee Gerard Crean, accuses Pontieri of "self-enrichment and politicial cronyism" through the tripling of his personal salary, the sale of his personal vehicle through a relative and a push to hire a relative to do custodial work for the Village.
“Paul’s my friend and has done so much for the community," McGiff said, "but at this point his vision and my vision have taken a different path."
Patchogue First is an organization that the entire current village board ran under during the 2004 and 2008 mayoral elections. Those elections have been uncontested.
McGiff also told Patch that he had found evidence of a $150,000 loan given to from the Village through Pontieri, which he described as an illegal practice as it was not presented in front of the Village Board.
The letter was sent to registered voters in Patchogue Village and was paid for by the signees, according to a Patchogue First official.
Pontieri said he was upset by the letter.
“When people you trust and people that you have brought in who you thought were friends attack you in a stirless way, it's an attack on you personally,” Pontieri said. “They have taken these small issues and made them into huge issues.”
Pontieri defended himself against the letter's charges to Patch.
Regarding the loan to Artspace, Pontieri said it came about when Artspace was putting together its financial package to pay for the new development.
“When we got to closing, we had changed our building fees," Pontieri said. "In the meantime, we had raised them."
This left Artspace $150,000 short of the necessary costs to develop, and it could not change its application as it was already approved, Pontieri said.
“So what I did in consultation with the village attorney, bonding, and Artspace attorneys, we gave them a note for $150,000, with no loss of funding to the village because we didn’t waive, gift or reduce fees,” Pontieri said.
McGiff said that he only found out about the loan four weeks ago, and that it was done without board approval or knowledge. Pontieri said that if an error was made on whether or not board approval was necessary for the loan, it is being investigated and is not an unsolvable problem.
Regarding the reported salary increase, Pontieri said that the same vote also multiplied the salaries of the other village trustees.
“My salary went from $15,000 to $36,000, at the same time the trustees raised their own from $3,600 to $12,000,” Pontieri said. “The salary increases were discussed extensively and passed by a unanimous vote.”
The letter also mentions that Pontieri accepted a job with the Town of Brookhaven, which Pontieri says is a minimal part-time job. Pontieri works out of the Town’s Economic Development Department.
“My job with Brookhaven is hourly and I do eight hours a week now,” Pontieri said. In comparison, Pontieri said he puts in 40-50 hours a week at the Village.
Regarding the vehicle, Pontieri said that he had sold his green Ford Explorer to a relative, and at the same time the Village was looking into purchasing a vehicle for the superintendent of highways at a cost of $32,000. Instead, Pontieri suggested that the Village purchase the Explorer at a cost of $2,500. Pontieri said his relative did make $500 from the sale.
The hiring of a different relative as a custodian occurred after the Village’s previous cleaners left through attrition, Pontieri said. The mayor said that highway laborers are typically hired by the village to clean at $30-$40 an hour, but that instead they are able to pay his relative $19-$20 an hour instead.
Pontieri said that he is the lowest paid worker in the Village, and works 40 hours a week. He is paid a benefits package that equals one-third of his salary.
Crean said that he was against the hiring of Pontieri’s relative when it was proposed.
“There’s no need to create a new job with benefits and the cost of hiring over the life of his employment is going to be very substantial,” Crean said.
The letter sent out to residents this past weekend states that Pontieri "has been informed that he can no longer use the Patchogue First name as his own."
Pontieri told Patch that was a mute point, saying that he had already separated from the organization, which he said became a corporation shortly after the of the in Patchogue.
“There have been differences in terms of Patchogue First and I already sort of resigned myself that Patchogue First has gone from being a community based organization now made into a corporation,” Pontieri said.
Elisabeth McGuire, an officer of the organization, which has a Facebook page and website, said that it was formed as a grassroots organization and has recently become listed as a legal not-for-profit corporation. The name had previously only been trademarked.
“It's something that was more of a grassroots organization to really fight partisan politics at the Village level and put the Village residents’ interests first above political maneuvering, and we felt if we could eliminate the politics we could get more done,” McGuire said. “We had several core principals and one is against high density housing.”
McGuire said that Pontieri has since became one of high density housing’s biggest supporters.
Pontieri recently formed another organization called Patchogue 2012, which consists of himself and trustees Lori Devlin and Jack Krieger. All three are up for re-election next March.
McGiff's seat on the village board as deputy mayor will also be up for re-election next year. In the meantime, the entire Village board will still need work together despite the dividing letter.
“I’m sure we’ll still operate on a professional level, but it was a difficult journey to get to this point,” McGiff said of Pontieri, adding that he had rejected Pontieri’s request as a ticket for re-election.
Crean said he was hopeful a working relationship would continue among board members and the mayor.
“I realize that certain people may be disappointed or frustrated at both Stephen and I," Crean said, "but we also received a lot of support."
Pontieri said he believed his character and reputation in town would trump the letter's charges.
“My friends, my family and the Village and the community hopefully have enough respect for me that garbage and trash like this will not affect what they believe about me,” he said.
Patch has Freedom of Information requests pending on several of the mentioned documents.
Updated 8/2/11 at 9:13 p.m.