The company in contract to buy the town’s remaining vacant land at the Calverton Enterprise Park has hired former Riverhead town official — and the ex-husband of a sitting councilwoman — Christopher Kent as its attorney.
Kent said in an interview yesterday he was retained Feb. 8 by Triple Five Group, the controlling owner of Calverton Aviation and Technology, which is in contract to buy more than 1,600 acres at the former Grumman site.
Kent is the ex-husband of Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who has opposed the sale. Since taking office last year, she has abstained from discussing and voting on other matters in which her ex-husband was involved as counsel.
The councilwoman said yesterday she has asked the Riverhead Ethics Board for guidance on whether she must recuse going forward from matters in which her ex-husband is legal counsel.
“We’ve been divorced for years,” Catherine Kent said. “I’d like to meet with the ethics board about this,” she said. “I want to be fully involved in town government.”
Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she intends to ask the ethics board for an opinion on Chris Kent’s appearance on matters involving the Calverton Enterprise Park because of his previous employment by the Town of Riverhead.
After serving one term as a Riverhead town councilman, from 1998 to 2001, Chris Kent served as a deputy town attorney (2004-2005) and deputy supervisor (2005-2007). During his term on the town board, the former Grumman site was deeded to the Riverhead CDA by the U.S. Navy, the town board entered into an agreement to sell the 491-acre industrial core of the 2,900-acre site to developer Jan Burman and also entertained numerous purchase offers from other developers. At least one application to purchase 755 acres was made while Chris Kent, as a deputy town attorney, worked on evaluating the application on behalf of the town.
Jens-Smith questioned whether Chris Kent’s involvement with the site as a councilman and town employee presents an issue under the Riverhead ethics code’s “revolving door” provision.
That provision states that “no former town officer or employee shall, at any time, appear before any town agency, or perform any work, whether paid or unpaid, for any person, in connection with any particular matter on which the town officer or employee personally participated in and substantially worked on during the period of his or her employment with the town or which was under his or her active consideration.”
Chris Kent said he has not sought an opinion from the ethics board about working for clients in connection with the EPCAL site. The “revolving door” provision of the ethics code only precludes a former employee from working on a “particular matter” he or she worked on as a town employee, Kent said.
“The ‘particular matter’ is very specific to that transaction,” Kent said. “For example, I couldn’t work for Kenneth Wilpon if he were interested in purchasing land at EPCAL because I was negotiating with Wilpon on behalf of the town,” Kent said, referring to a developer who sought to purchase 755 acres of land — a portion of the land being sold to Triple Five. Kent was deputy town attorney at the time of the Wilpon application.
The general bar against a former employee representing a client before the town is only six months said Kent, who said he “had a hand in writing” the town’s ethics code.
“If anyone thinks I need an opinion [of the ethics board] I’ll be glad to ask for it,” he said.
He said he does not believe his former wife has a conflict when it comes to decision-making on projects clients he represents.
“We’ve been separates since January 2008 and divorces since 2012. I don’t talk to her about town matters,” he said. “I’m involved in a lot of tremendously important matters across Suffolk County. I could not risk doing anything unethical,” he said.
Kent, a partner in the Melville-based law firm Farrell Fritz, worked as Suffolk County’s director of real property acquisition and management after leaving Riverhead Town government. He was then tapped by former county executive Steve Levy as chief deputy county executive, a position he held for two years before joining Farrell Fritz.
He informed the town this week that Calverton Aviation and Technology had replaced director of business development Stuart Bienenstock with Amy Herbold, a senior company official for American Dream LLC, a Triple Five Group affiliate developing a mega mall and entertainment facility in New Jersey.
Jens-Smith said yesterday she asked Triple Five to replace Bienenstock as the company’s “point person” on the EPCAL project after RiverheadLOCAL reported that Bienenstock was found by a New Jersey court to have “intentionally defrauded” a buyer in a New Jersey real estate deal.
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