Luminati founder and CEO Daniel Preston at an event in Calverton in June 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Luminati Aerospace will have until at least the end of this month to negotiate an agreement with the Town of Riverhead to purchase land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, according to town officials.

NYC billionaire John Catsimatidis, who in July announced his United Refining Energy Corp. was “highly interested” in the Luminati deal as financier or joint venturer, has still not firmly committed to participating in the purchase, according to a Catsimatidis spokesman.

“We are actively negotiating with Luminati,” Catsimatidis spokesman J. Nelson Happy said yesterday, when asked if Catsimatidis has committed to the deal.

The Nov. 4 “drop dead” date for finalizing the contract, announced by Supervisor Sean Walter during RiverheadLOCAL’s live-streamed debate with challenger Laura Jens-Smith Oct. 25, had to be extended because of a long delay by the town’s lawyers in getting back to the prospective purchaser’s attorney, the supervisor said yesterday.

The town didn’t return the last iteration of the “red-lined” contract to Luminati’s attorney until Oct. 31, Walter said yesterday.

“They got their comments back to us right away,” Walter said in an interview. “But it took our side three weeks to get our comments back to them,” he said. “Lawyers are busy,”

Councilman Tim Hubbard and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio both confirmed the delay.

“Michael Heller [one of two outside counsel hired to handle the contract negotiations] said a glitch in the computer system made him unable to make the changes on it,” Hubbard said. Heller and the town’s other outside lawyer, Frank Isler, “didn’t send their redlined version back to Luminati’s attorney until Oct. 31,” Hubbard said.

“Now they’re saying the 30 days didn’t start ticking until then,” he said.

The town signed a letter of intent with Luminati Aerospace in early April. The letter of intent stated the two sides had 30 days to reach “an agreement in principle” on the terms of the deal.

But Luminati insisted negotiations could not get underway in earnest until a survey of the property to be sold was provided — at Luminati’s expense. Luminati paid the $13,000 surveyor’s fee on June 13. Walter said this week the survey was not completed until the end of September.

On Oct. 4, the town’s lawyers sent Luminati’s lawyer a letter purporting to set a new 30-day deadline to finalize the terms of the deal, according to Walter, Hubbard and Giglio. The town board was not provided with a copy of that letter until this week, both Hubbard and Giglio said in interviews — despite the letter’s indication that the town board had been copied on the letter.

Giglio said she and Hubbard did not get a copy of the letter until Tuesday (Oct. 31) after demanding a copy from the town’s lawyers.

Both Hubbard and Giglio said they had been unaware of any delay until this week.

Walter insists the delay in finalizing the terms of the proposed sale — or terminating the letter of intent — is not a political maneuver has his opponent in this year’s election argues.

“I’m not doing this for political gain,” he said. “This is the worst possible timing, but I’m not going to have an election dictate the negotiation of this contract. That would be an abdication of my duties.”

Jens-Smith said she doesn’t buy Walter’s rationale. “It sounds very much like election year politicking,” she said in an interview today. “Sean’s going around saying this is a deal between a billionaire and a visionary, but the billionaire still isn’t willing to commit.”

Jens-Smith said “this whole deal has not been above board from the beginning.” Walter, she said, has not been transparent about it from the start. “Nothing has changed.”

Luminati Aerospace bought the former Skydive Long Island site in 2015, announcing plans to build an unmanned aircraft capable of perpetual stratospheric flight using solar and wind energy. In June 2016, Luminati cofounder and CEO Daniel Preston announced the company was moving to larger, rented quarters in the former Grumman plant six, where it would produce the solar/wind powered aircraft as well as a sea plane, scheduled to be in production by the end of October 2016, Preston said. The sea plane production deal later fell apart.  The departure of key members of what Preston called his “dream team” and revelations about the startup founder’s past and current legal troubles cast doubt on his ability to fulfill his promise to bring the defense aerospace industry back to Calverton

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.