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Aug 30, 2016 5:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Suspended Westhampton Beach Police Officer Files Claim, Levels Allegations Of Corruption Against Village And Officials

Joseph Pesapane
Sep 1, 2016 11:21 AM

A Westhampton Beach Village police officer, suspended without pay for the past quarter-decade, plans to sue the village, as well as several Suffolk County officials, alleging that he is being punished after witnessing years of corruption behind closed doors at Village Hall—and that his prolonged suspension has nothing to do with his behavior while in uniform.

Joseph Pesapane, who was hired by the village in 2006 and has been on unpaid suspension since February 2014—his fourth suspension in eight years of department service—is seeking $75 million in damages from a half dozen defendants. They include former Mayor Conrad Teller and former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, the latter of whom pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges stemming from accusations that he beat a suspect in custody, threatened to kill him and then forced others to hide his misconduct.

Mr. Pesapane’s most recent suspension came five months after he was arrested by Suffolk County Police and charged with fourth-degree stalking, a misdemeanor—a charge that was dropped in July by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office when prosecutors could not substantiate the allegation, his attorney said.

Eric Sanders, Mr. Pesapane’s attorney, served the 19-page notice of claim—the precursor to a lawsuit—to Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore on Monday afternoon. The document alleges that the village routinely violated Mr. Pesapane’s civil rights, and states that Mr. Teller, when he served as mayor, framed Mr. Pesapane and a fellow officer, who has since retired with full benefits, in an incident where another officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters in 2009.

According to his notice of claim, Mr. Pesapane says the former mayor intentionally lied to investigators and other village officials about the missing handgun, saying that it was stolen when it was actually misplaced. He also maintains that Mr. Teller coerced his friend, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, to open an investigation into the incident after the State Police declined to do so. The document also alleges that Mr. Teller leaked information about the investigation to The Press and local bloggers to smear his name.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Mr. Spota, declined to comment on the notice of claim when reached this week. He did note that Mr. Pesapane asked the DA to investigate his allegations about leaked information around April 30, 2015, and that the office closed its investigation about two months later, though Mr. Clifford declined to share if anything was discovered.

The claim also alleges that Westhampton Beach police officers covered up some crimes, including rape and domestic abuse cases—some of which date back to the 1990s, when Mr. Pesapane was not on the force. It also states that Mr. Pesapane was not part of the “political machine” in which new officers are hired as political favors.

Westhampton Beach attorney Richard Zuckerman, speaking on behalf of the Village Board and current Police Chief Trevor Gonce, said Tuesday that all of the allegations in the notice are false—though Mr. Pesapane’s version of events makes for good reading.

“Anyone can write fiction,” said Mr. Zuckerman, an attorney with Lamb & Barnosky of Melville, “especially if you convince yourself that it is actually true. But it is Labor Day and some people have run out of things to read.”

Mr. Teller, who was voted out of office in 2014, declined to comment when reached this week, saying he had not yet been served.

Mr. Pesapane’s first suspension was handed down in 2009, after investigators with the Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau determined that he and a fellow officer, Michael Bruetsch, lied during an investigation into the missing handgun at police headquarters. Mr. Bruetsch agreed to retire in 2012, with full benefits. In his notice of claim, Mr. Pesapane says the charges brought against him were politically motivated.

His most recent suspension occurred in February 2014, five months after he was arrested in Port Jefferson and charged with stalking an ex-fiancée. It was at that time that Mr. Pesapane requested that the Village Board indefinitely delay his disciplinary hearing until he could clear his name. Mr. Pesapane, in his notice, also states that he thinks Mr. Teller, a former Southampton Town and Westhampton Beach police chief, had his hand in that arrest.

“The case against Mr. Pesapane was dismissed because after interviewing the victim and reviewing the Suffolk County Police Department paperwork in anticipation of a trial, prosecutors determined the case could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mr. Clifford wrote in an email when explaining why the stalking charge was dropped. “As the matter is sealed, no further information can be disclosed.”

Mr. Pesapane said he intends to file a formal lawsuit in the coming weeks, noting that he has lost more than $300,000 in salary during his suspension.

“When a public—appointed or elected—official engages in a systematic course of conduct to deprive an American citizen of their federal and civil rights, and violates the United States Constitution, they will face the consequences whether they are prosecuted civilly or criminally,” Mr. Pesapane said when reached on Tuesday.

Ms. Moore said the village is prepared to defend itself if Mr. Pesapane files a lawsuit, adding that Mr. Zuckerman will handle the proceedings.

“The allegations against the village are without merit,” Ms. Moore said on Tuesday morning. “But if he does file a complaint with the court, I am sure that a judge will agree with us.”

Mr. Pesapane’s attorney, Mr. Sanders, said he is prepared to call upon several witnesses to show how deep corruption runs at Village Hall, and that he expects his client to be vindicated.

“He is only looking to do what he was born to do—uphold the law,” Mr. Sanders said. “Unfortunately, the people who he works for don’t believe in that law.”

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Looks like a poster boy in the photo. Should have been gone years ago.
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Aug 31, 16 9:09 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 31, 16 11:12 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Aug 31, 16 11:47 AM
4th suspension?? hmmmmm....
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Aug 31, 16 12:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
Notice how Richard Zuckerman of Lamb & Barnosky of Melville is the WHB attorney and the same firm is employed by the WHB Library. Mr. Zuckerman's daughter of the same firm is retained by the Library for union negotiations. And we have elected Village Mayor Maria Moore and appointed Board of Trustees Library President Tom Moore. Too much of my tax money consolidated in one household and with one law firm, in my opinion, especially since Tom Moore is in an appointed position dealing with millions ...more
By st (129), westhampton beach on Aug 31, 16 6:15 PM
Counter sue for lawyer fees... Should have been done years ago, it will not go away, deal with it.
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Aug 31, 16 8:32 PM
In other words, the officer is not denying the claims against him, he's just saying everyone else is corrupt also. I believe him.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Sep 1, 16 7:41 AM
2 members liked this comment
What a rinky dink little night watchman police department! Sounds like the guy is a loser.
By mtkfishman (76), montauk on Sep 1, 16 10:16 AM
Hope he can prove the allegations....can anyone spell "Chris Broich"?
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Sep 1, 16 1:57 PM