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Jun 18, 2019 4:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Criminal Investigators Asking Questions About East Hampton Trustees Office Bugging

Jun 18, 2019 4:50 PM

Investigators from the Suffolk County district attorney’s office have questioned several local public officials and political players in connection with the recent “bugging” of the East Hampton Town Trustees office in Amagansett.

At least three members of the Town Trustees and two residents who have heard audio copies or seen printouts of portions of the recordings made surreptitiously in the Trustees office on Bluff Road have been interviewed in the last two weeks by investigators from District Attorney Timothy Sini’s office and the Bureau of Public Integrity.

One of those interviewed by the two investigators who have visited East Hampton on at least two occasions, Trustee Dell Cullum, said that he was told “multiple” recording devices were found in the Trustees offices after a “sweep.”

Trustees Clerk Francis Bock surmised this week, based on the apparent timing of the recordings made, that whoever had set up the recording device, or devices, had been trying to glean information from the conversations the Trustees were having with the attorney they have hired to help negotiate with Deepwater Wind over plans to bring an undersea power cable ashore in Wainscott.

“I have not heard the recordings, but I’m told it is multiple recordings spliced together, and that they started shortly after we hired outside council for the Deepwater negotiations,” Mr. Bock said this week. “We were having conference calls with that attorney … on speaker phone. I’m guessing that was the target.”

It was Mr. Bock who reported the bugging to East Hampton Town Police, who turned the matter over to the DA’s office and its Bureau of Public Integrity.

Shortly afterward, two investigators interviewed Mr. Bock and Mr. Grimes, separately, at the Town Police Department headquarters. Mr. Cullum said the pair then came to his house to interview him, while he ate lunch.

Mr. Cullum also acknowledged that the investigators said others had raised the suspicion that he might have been behind the bugging himself. He denied any involvement but said he had received a copy of the recordings, sparking a debate at a recent Trustees meeting, after which Mr. Bock took the matter to the police.

“They asked me if I knew who did it, and I said that while I have my gripes with the way the Trustees operation is being handled right now … I don’t think doing something like that would be of any use,” Mr. Cullum said. “As far as the content of the tape, I think it was overly hyped.”

Copies of portions of the recordings, which were shared with The Press and other media outlets this spring, seem to grab from multiple conversations and are edited to spotlight certain members of the Trustees speaking critically of others or giving advice to applicants that may violate state environmental statutes.

The recordings also were sent to Independence Party Chairwoman Elaine Jones, who claims she does not know who sent them. Rona Klopman, a candidate for one of the Democratic nominations to the Trustees seat, said she was given a copy of a transcript of one of the recordings.

Both women were interviewed by the DA investigators, Ms. Klopman acknowledged, also denying she knew the origin of the recordings.

“They said I was mentioned in one of the recordings, but I haven’t heard it. I only saw a transcript of part of it,” she said. “They asked me if I thought [Mr. Cullum] did it, because they said ‘they’ are saying he did it.”

It is the second time in less than a year that the DA’s office has had to dispatch investigators to track down potentially criminal workings surrounding East Hampton Town public offices.

Last fall, investigators interviewed dozens of residents about suspected forgeries on political nominating petitions and ultimately charged two political leaders, former Republican Party Chairman Amos Goodman and former Independence Party Vice Chairwoman Patricia Mansir, with felonies related to the suspicious signatures. The cases are still pending.

A spokesperson for Mr. Sini said that the office follows longstanding policy not to confirm or deny the existence of any of its investigations.

Mr. Bock said that regardless of the original motives behind the recordings being made, the edited versions that have been disseminated have clearly been intended to influence the Trustees election and wondered if someone hadn’t miscalculated the consequences of releasing the recordings.

“It amazes me,” he said, “that someone would be willing to go to jail over a stupid [elected] seat.”

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