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Islip Ethics Board Reviewing Trish Bergin Land Sale

By: 
CANDICE RUUD
Publication: 
NEWSDAY
Oct
10
2013

The Islip ethics board has been asked to review the sale of a plot of surplus town land, which the town board unanimously voted to sell for $3.2 million to a neighbor and campaign contributor of Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt.

Planning board member Joseph DeVincent said at a meeting last month that he was prepared to vote for the change of zone that was contingent on the sale of the 2.45 acre property in East Islip, but was concerned by "troubling questions . . . raised about the sale."

DeVincent, a Democrat, asked the ethics board in a Sept. 26 letter how the sale was advertised and how potential buyers were solicited before the town board voted to sell the site last year to John Bohlsen of the Bohlsen Restaurant Group.

DeVincent said the broker was not chosen through a public bidding process and he questioned the amount of the broker's fee.

Bergin Weichbrodt, a Republican who lives on the same street as the Bohlsens and has received about $7,250 from them in campaign contributions since 2009, did not return multiple calls for comment.

Ethics board chairman Nicholas Campasano said he could not comment on DeVincent's request for an investigation because all matters under consideration by the board "are in confidence."

Town attorney Robert Cicale disputed any suggestion of impropriety, saying that Bohlsen was the highest of three bidders on the property -- offering well above the $2.75 million appraisal -- and that Paul Llobell, broker on the sale, was chosen because of his resume and expertise.

"This is a particular professional service that requires local knowledge," Cicale said by email, adding that real estate brokers who are hired to sell town property are recruited based on experience and geographic area, and are hired via a professional services agreement that is voted on by the town board.

Records show Bergin Weichbrodt made the motions to hire Llobell and to approve Bohlsen as the buyer.

DeVincent said his concerns developed during several planning board hearings related to the sale, where residents raised the issue of a possible conflict.

The sale of surplus land has been one of Bergin Weichbrodt's pet projects: returning properties to the tax rolls in the face of a gaping budget deficit.

Critics of the sale, including Shawn Linz, a next-door neighbor of the property being sold, and George Hafele, a Democratic candidate competing for Bergin Weichbrodt's seat on the Town Board, said it was improper because Bergin Weichbrodt and the Bohlsens live on the same street in East Islip and are friendly.

Llobell, who the town board voted 5-0 to hire in April 2012, is a Republican who has contributed to the campaigns of local Republicans Olga Hopkins Murray, the Islip Town clerk, and Suffolk Legislator Tom Cilmi. He also gave $1,000 to the Town of Islip Republican Committee in 2012. Llobell stands to make a 5 percent commission on the sale of the property.

Cicale said the commission "is below typical market rate" of 6 to 10 percent, and he noted that the Bohlsens, not the town, would pay Llobell's $160,000 commission.

At an Oct. 8 town board meeting, Hafele addressed Bergin Weichbrodt during public comment, saying she should have abstained from voting on the sale because of her ties to the Bohlsens. "Did you consider the thought that you may want to recuse yourself from a real estate transaction that included . . . selling the parcel to your friend and neighbor?" Hafele asked.

Bergin Weichbrodt did not publicly respond.

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