Former Riverhead Town official Chris Kempner was charged with driving while intoxicated after a collision Tuesday – and claims the crash was a “set-up” by someone who is investigating her in connection with the proposed land deal at the Calverton Enterprise Park, according to her lawyer.
Kempner was the administrator of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, which owns the enterprise park, from January 2008 until May 2017 and has been an enthusiastic advocate of the controversial, proposed $40 million sale to an affiliate of Triple Five Group, the Edmonton, Canada-based developer known for building and operating mega-malls.
Kempner was eastbound on West Main Street at about 7 p.m. Tuesday when she rear-ended another eastbound vehicle at the Griffing Avenue intersection, according to Riverhead Town Police. Kempner refused to submit to a breath test, police said. No one was injured in the crash, police said.
She was charged with DWI as well as with the separate offense of refusal to take the test, according to court documents. Kempner was arraigned in Riverhead Justice Court Wednesday and released on her own recognizance.
James Going, the Westhampton Beach criminal defense attorney representing Kempner, said Kempner did not rear-end the other vehicle; the operator of the other vehicle backed into Kempner’s vehicle, he said. The other operator jumped out of the truck “and started screaming like a madman,” he said.
“This was a total set-up,” Going said.
Kempner told him she has been followed for the past two weeks at least, Going said.
“She’s been the subject of an investigation involving EPCAL,” he said.
The lawyer said that the same truck followed him yesterday as he drove his client from the courthouse to the parking lot where she’d left her car the night before, so she could retrieve personal items. Going said he was providing her with a ride to the Riverhead train station and the truck, a large pickup with Vermont plates, tailed him to the station. Going said he in turn followed the truck from the train station and claims its operator maneuvered to try to lose him, traveling a circuitous route to Route 58, entering the driveway to the rear of the Dunkin Donuts and then exiting the parking lot and proceeding south on Roanoke Avenue. Going stopped following, he said.
“I thought she was paranoid until this happened,” Going said. He said he cannot disclose who his client believes is following her.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said Kempner did not mention anything to police about being followed.
“She did not report that to us,” Hegermiller said.
Going said Kempner took a field sobriety test at the scene of the crash but refused to take the breath test at police headquarters. “She was under the assumption that she passed the other test,” Going said. “She was scared. She didn’t want to do anything.”
Kempner’s advocacy for the pending deal with the Triple Five affiliate, Calverton Aviation and Technology, has led to at least one complaint to the Riverhead Board of Ethics, according to town officials. She was also named in a recent complaint to the NY Attorney General’s public integrity office.
Kempner accompanied Councilwoman Jodi Giglio to a meeting with Triple Five representatives in New York City on March 12, while a public hearing on the proposed land sale was pending. Giglio came under fire for taking that meeting, which she did without notifying fellow town board members or the town’s legal counsel. The councilwoman disclosed that Kempner accompanied her to the Triple Five meeting during a town board work session on April 5 at which she reviewed her discussion with the prospective purchasers. Giglio said Kempner went with her because she’s an attorney and a friend.
Triple Five was brought into the deal by Luminati Aerospace, which in March 2017 signed a letter of intent with the town to buy the town’s remaining vacant acreage at the Calverton Enterprise Park. At the time, Kempner was the administrator of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, which holds title to the land. She left that post in May 2017 but stayed on as a consultant to assist the town in a transition to a new administrator. She is currently the deputy commissioner of housing and human services in the Town of Brookhaven, a job she took in February after a brief stint at the Stony Brook Business Incubator.
The former community development director was in the audience at the town board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, at which the board had a contentious vote on a resolution concerning the level of financial disclosure Triple Five should be required to make. She left Town Hall with Giglio after the meeting ended at about 4 p.m.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith this morning was unaware of Kempner’s arrest Tuesday evening. She said this afternoon she had no knowledge of any investigation into Kempner and it was “certainly not” something the town had requested.
“Absolutely not,” Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard said. “I’m shocked at that. Why would the town be? Why would anyone? What’s her involvement with EPCAL? Why would anyone be interested in her?”
Giglio said in a text message this afternoon that she was unaware of any investigation into Kempner. If the ethics board wanted to do something like that — hire an investigator to follow someone — they would not authorize that without town board approval.
Giglio also said Kempner had not told her she’s been being followed by someone.
“She felt she was set up,” Giglio said in reference to the collision.
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