Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith is calling for an independent investigation into the relationship between incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter and Luminati Aerospace CEO Daniel Preston.
At a press conference this morning at the Calverton Enterprise Park, Jens-Smith accused Walter of keeping information about the Luminati deal from the public and even from his fellow town board members.
“One man alone — Sean Walter — has been orchestrating this deal,” she said. “If I did not know any better I would think Sean Walter was acting as the real estate broker on this deal looking for the commission.”
She said the town needs an “internal investigation by an external party.”
Jens-Smith faulted Walter for knowing that Luminati Aerospace is operating out of two buildings at the enterprise park without having required permits or certificates of occupancy, as first reported by RiverheadLOCAL June 22, and doing nothing about it — not even informing council members of the violations or a stop-work order that was issued by the town’s building inspector in December. Not only did Luminati continue to operate out of the building in question, it held a large event there on June 16 — which Walter and three of the other four town board members attended.
In an interview last week, Walter downplayed the significance of the lack of permits and the stop-work order, saying that many premises inside the enterprise park lack permits and have violations. The town lacks the personnel to effectively enforce the code across the board and react to complaints, he said.
“Luminati came into town a new startup with big promises — promises of returning aviation to EPCAL,” Jens-Smith said.
She ticked off a number of what she called “red flags of distress” that she said the supervisor chooses to ignore as he pursues the sale of most of the town’s remaining land in the enterprise park.
“With much fanfare, Luminati claimed that it designed and built the first plane manufactured at EPCAL in 20 years, but it was designed and built by a German company,” Jens-Smith said, referring to the solar and wind energy plane that took a demonstration flight before a large crowd at EPCAL in June 2016.
The June 2016 event prompted a press release from the German aircraft maker PC-Aero, which said it had designed and built — in Germany — the plane Luminati flew over EPCAL. Preston told RiverheadLOCAL that he and a team of Luminati engineers spent three months at PC-Aero’s plant in Germany making major adaptations to the aircraft and he stands by his claim to its design. He said his lawyer obtained a written retraction from PC-Aero but was unable to provide a copy which he said he would ask his lawyer Robert Hasday to provide. Hasday did not return phone calls or produce the retraction letter.
Calin Gologan, the CEO of PC-Aero, disputed Preston’s statements. “The aircraft from Luminati was completely manufactured in Germany by us,” he told RiverheadLOCAL in April. “There was no retraction letter,” Gologan said.
Jens-Smith also pointed to the resignations of key members of Luminati’s “dream team,” senior scientist Anthony Calise and cofounder Stephan Maier as a “red flag” about Luminati’s ability to deliver on its promises.
Calise told RiverheadLOCAL in April that he and Maier had both left the company, as had many others. Calise said he “led the entire tech effort, all of the design work and had a team of engineers reporting to me.”
“I’m not the only one who left. I’m not sure there’s anyone there at this point in time,” he said.
Through a spokesperson, Preston in April acknowledged the departure of Calise and Maier and said seven of the other staff members then depicted on Luminati’s website were presently “on leave.” He said he currently had “about 30 people on staff.” Luminati has since removed the web page listing staff members.
Luminati and Facebook parting ways is another red flag, according to Jens-Smith. Walter’s knowledge of that and failing to share the information with other board members is another example of the supervisor’s lack of transparency, she said.
Walter did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Jens-Smith’s running mates Catherine Kent and Michelle Lynch, who stood at her side during the press conference, criticized the incumbent town board members for failing, they said, to take an active role in independently researching the proposed purchaser. All four council members said last week they were unaware of the permit issues and stop-work order.
“Do the members of this board talk to each other?” Kent asked. How could the rest of the town board not know about these issues [the permits and stop-work order]? It’s incredulous and unbelievable that only the supervisor knew about the lack of permits and COs,” she said.
Her town board running mate agreed. “If the other bd members are claiming ignorance
it’s apparent they are not communicating with each other,” Lynch said. “How could the rest of the town board not know about these issues? It shows a lack of due diligence.”
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said this afternoon “the building department doesn’t let the town board know if building permits or stop-work orders are issued” because “that’s part of the day-to-day operations of the town — that’s the supervisor,” she said. “He has a lot going on.”
Giglio said she agrees with Walter that the town should “work with businesses to bring them into compliance rather than shut them down.” She said the building department must not have “safety concerns” about Luminati’s facilities.
“If there were safety concerns they would have shut them down already,” Giglio said.
Luminati is “coming forth with their building permits, working on their plans and trying to bring the building into compliance,” according to Giglio.
The councilwoman said the town has “come a long way with EPCAL,” citing progress made on the subdivision and in marketing the property.
Giglio said the town should negotiate a “right of first refusal” into the contract to allow the town to buy back the property “for the same dollar amount within the first year and at market rate thereafter.”
If Luminati won’t agree to that condition, she said, the town should agree to sell just 200 acres with the option to buy the rest after Luminati meets performance standards including creating 200 jobs in the first 18 months and 500 jobs total in five years. She also wants the contract to outline improvements to the runway (repaving) to be made by Luminati within the first two years, to be guaranteed by a performance bond. She has other contract conditions pertaining to the recreation trail and the future ability to develop acreage the DEC has reportedly told the town cannot be developed.
Giglio said she sent a memo with her demands for the contract’s terms to the supervisor, town board and the town’s special counsel working on negotiating the contract. She said she did not know the status of her request.
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