Despite previous denials of a business relationship with Triple Five Group, former Riverhead Town official Chris Kempner acted as a broker for Triple Five in its bid to purchase the Dowling College Brookhaven Campus, according to a document filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on behalf of the college.
Kempner, who until June 2017 headed up the Riverhead Community Development Agency, which owns and manages the Calverton Enterprise Park, has actively advocated for the Edmonton, Canada-based developer in its application for approval to buy Riverhead’s remaining acreage at the enterprise park. Kempner says her advocacy for Triple Five comes from her excitement about the company’s vision for the EPCAL property, which she believes will greatly benefit the Town of Riverhead and the entire region. In interviews and public comments, both Triple Five and Kempner have denied any business relationship.
But a court filing in Dowling College’s bankruptcy proceeding says otherwise.
“Triple Five Aviation Industries, LLC contacted us through their broker, Christine Kempner of Whale Rock Realty on January 25th,” the real estate agents representing the college wrote in a “Report for Court” dated May 17 and filed with the court on May 31.
The report goes on to state that Triple Five was then “in approval process for the acquisition and redevelopment of the EPCAL site in Riverhead.”
Triple Five’s $14 million bid to purchase the 105-acre Dowling site in Shirley was approved by the bankruptcy court in June. The closing on the deal remains pending.
Dowling’s Brookhaven campus, used by the college as an aviation education and training facility, has legal access to an airport owned by Brookhaven Town, where Kempner had been employed since February as deputy commissioner of human services. Kempner resigned from that post yesterday, a spokesperson for the town acknowledged this afternoon. The town could not provide further information because it does not discuss personnel matters, he said.
Triple Five representative Stuart Bienenstock said today the company had no broker agreement with Kempner. She “introduced” Triple Five to the property after the company signed a “non-circumvent” letter for Kempner stating that it would not pursue a deal with Dowling except through her and her real estate company.
“We do not have a business relationship with her,” Bienenstock said.
“We have never paid her anything and we don’t have any arrangement with her to pay her anything,” he said. Any fee that may be payable to Kempner as a result of the sale of the Dowling campus to Triple Five would be payable by the seller’s broker, not by Triple Five, he said, stressing that he is not aware whether any fee would even be owed Kempner.
In an interview today, Kempner did not deny she was Triple Five’s broker in the Dowling College sale. Asked directly, she said, “I am a broker. It’s on the record, right?” Asked if the statement in the report to the court should be taken at face value, Kempner replied, “What more is there to that?” Asked if she would be paid a fee when that transaction closes, she said, “That’s usually how the brokerage works.”
Kempner, who is both an attorney and a licensed real estate broker, insisted she had never previously denied having a business relationship with Triple Five. “I said they had not paid me,” she said.
“I told you I was helping Triple Five on Calverton without being paid because it’s a great vision for the property. It’s a vision I have been trying to make happen there for a huge chunk of my career,” Kempner said.
She then said that the report to the court was “partially accurate.”
“I don’t want to get into details of like, you know, business, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate but I’m not going to get into it,” she said. “I think it’s partially accurate. But I’m not going down the rabbit hole with you.”
Asked if she has a current business relationship with Triple Five, Kempner replied, “I would say, you know, brokering something is business.”
In a text message sent about an hour after the phone interview this evening, Kempner said, “I offered the property to several entities as a broker including Triple 5 before the bid deadline of Jan. 25 and all passed.”
Kempner accompanied Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio to a meeting with Triple Five in NYC on March 12, while a public hearing on the application of Triple Five affiliate Calverton Aviation and Technology was in progress. The meeting took place on the eve of the scheduled continuation of the public hearing, which began on Feb. 27 and, after more than four hours of testimony, was adjourned to March 13. A snowstorm on March 13 required the hearing to be postponed until March 19.
Prior to the meeting, the councilwoman had been a vocal opponent of the sale to any entity in which Luminati Aerospace had an interest — including, initially, Calverton Aviation and Technology.
On Dec. 19, she voted against a resolution approving the contract of sale, which passed 3-2 with the support of former supervisor Sean Walter, former councilman John Dunleavy and Councilman James Wooten. On Feb. 6, she voted against scheduling the qualified and eligible hearing. On March 6, she voted against changing the hearing location to a larger venue, saying, “I’m not putting my name on anything to do with this.”
On March 13, the day after the meeting in New York City, she called RiverheadLOCAL to say she had a four-hour meeting with representatives of Triple Five in NYC the day before and was reconsidering her previous opposition to the deal.
Giglio, who took the meeting with Triple Five without notifying the other members of the town board or the town’s lawyers, did not initially disclose that Kempner had accompanied her to the meeting. She disclosed Kempner accompanied her in response to questioning by Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith during the April 5 work session. When Jens-Smith asked why Kempner was there, Giglio said, “Because she’s a very good friend of mine, and an attorney, and she’s very familiar with the project.”
Asked directly by the supervisor if Kempner was working with Triple Five, Giglio said, “No, she has not been.”
Giglio maintains that she took the meeting with the applicant in a fact-finding effort — “to do my due diligence,” she says.
Giglio did not return a phone message today asking if she knew about Kempner being a broker for Triple Five on the Dowling deal. Instead she sent a text message about 15 minutes later stating: “I don’t know anything about Chris Kempner’s business dealings.” She did not return a second call after that.
Giglio’s private meeting with Triple Five in NYC has led to the filing of at least two ethics complaints by Riverhead residents — one to the town’s board of ethics and another to the N.Y. Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau. The complaint to the Riverhead Board of Ethics seeks Giglio’s recusal from the vote on the sale of the town-owned land at the enterprise park.
The town board, which serves as the governing body of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, has said it will not vote on the Triple Five application until after it receives the opinion of the town ethics board on whether Giglio should recuse herself from the vote.