Supervisor Yvette Aguiar at the Country Fair Oct. 11. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Heading into the last days of the 2021 election cycle, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar outpaced her opponent by nearly 3 to 1 in campaign fundraising and by more than that margin in spending.

In the final campaign finance disclosure report required before Election Day, Aguiar’s campaign committee reported raising $9,950, bringing her total contributions in this election cycle to $111,880. Councilwoman Catherine Kent raised $7,316 in the current reporting period, bringing her total contributions this election cycle so far to $37,551. 

Once again, Aguiar’s fundraising came primarily from large contributions — $9,000 of the $9,950 reported. She received $4,000 from Rand Industrial, a company based in Denver, Colorado; $3,000 from L.I. Drag Racing Club, based in Mastic; $1,000 from Robert and Dianne Castaldi, owners of the Suffolk Theater; and $1,000 from Quality of Life DME, a medical supply company in Boca Raton, Florida. 

Kent’s largest contribution this period was $1,000 from Dee Muma of Riverhead, owner of Dark Horse Restaurant. She had a pair of $500 contributions, one from Joanne Niebergall of Center Moriches and one from Mason Tenders District of Greater New York PAC. Kent also received just under $2,500 from the Riverhead Town Democratic Committee this period. The remainder of Kent’s contributions were in amounts from $50 to $250, all but two from individuals. 

Both Aguiar and her campaign committee treasurer, Paul Carr, her husband, who is also her campaign manager, pushed back at reporters’ questions about large campaign donors.

Asked if she knows the Denver Colorado company Rand Industrial LLC, or its principal Jon Savignano, Aguiar said, “I do not get involved with my campaign finances. They’re supposed to be run totally separate. There is a campaign manager who speaks to the state, who knows all the regulations and addresses anything with funding. All the election protocols are addressed.” 

Pressed about whether she knows who the contributor is and what their interest in Riverhead may be, Aguiar demurred. 

“I don’t know, particularly, who it is,” Aguiar said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “You’re asking me a question almost to put me on the spot,” she said.

The $4,000 contribution was Aguiar’s largest to date, and far exceeds the $1,185 election cycle limit for Riverhead Town offices in 2021.

Savignano has formed more than two dozen limited liability companies in Colorado and has been a regular contributor to political campaigns in that state. Phone messages left for him at publicly listed numbers were not returned. There is scant information available online about any of Savignano’s business entities, except a funding company he cofounded but no longer seems to be associated with. One of his companies was pursuing approvals for a medical waste disposal facility in Adams County, Colorado a decade ago. 

“The state’s not asking me what the relationship is. So why do you ask me what the relationship is?” said Paul Carr, Aguiar’s husband and campaign treasurer/manager, when RiverheadLOCAL contacted him to ask about the Rand Industrial and other contributions, as Aguiar requested.

“They’re a developer in Denver,” Carr said. “I’m familiar with what they do. They have revitalized Denver in a lot of areas. They do a lot of charitable work. So, I don’t know where you’re going,” he said. “They’re, as far as I understand, is that they’re a business. Okay? Maybe they’re looking to invest up here. I have no idea,” he said.

“That’s why I disclosed it,” Carr continued. “And I knew that if I disclosed it, I knew that you guys from the Local would jump right on it — that I knew — so I’m transparent. I put it out there. It’s part of the report. I made sure that it made the 11-day report,” he said. 

Aguiar retains more than $21,000 in contributions in excess of statutory election limit

Aguiar’s campaign has retained more than $21,000 in campaign contributions from more than a dozen different contributors that exceed the $1,185 election limit for Riverhead Town offices in this election cycle. These contributions in excess of the $1,185 election limit were made by corporations and LLCs.

Both Aguiar and Carr insisted in separate interviews that the $1,185 limit does not apply to corporations, which they argued have a $5,000 limit. 

That is inaccurate, according to a spokesperson for the New York State Board of Elections, as well as campaign finance instructional materials published by the state board on its website and in a handbook for candidates.

“There are two types of limits,” New York State Board of Elections spokesperson John Conklin explained. “There is the election limit, which applies to the candidate, and there is the contributor limit, which applies to the contributor.” 

The $5,000 limit refers to the total amount a corporation or limited liability company can give to all political campaigns in a calendar year, Conklin said. A corporation might make several donations to several campaigns, but the total amount of those donations may not exceed $5,000.

But individual elections have separate limits on the amount a candidate can accept from a single donor, set by state election law and based on the office sought and population.

This year’s election limit for Riverhead Town office is set at $1,185, which means a candidate cannot accept more than $1,185 from any one donor, including a corporation.

For example, a corporation could legally make contributions of $1,185 to four different candidates for Riverhead Town office this year. This would add up to $4,740, which is less than the corporation’s limit of $5,000 for total political contributions in a calendar year. But a corporation would be prohibited from making a contribution to a single campaign over $1,185, since that is the election limit in Riverhead Town this year.

The State Board of Elections publishes an annual schedule of election limits for various statewide offices. The election limits for local offices, calculated per a statutory formula, can be provided by the county board of elections, Conklin said.

The contributor limit does not affect a candidate’s election limit, as is clearly explained on the State Board of Elections website, which states, “no individual, corporation, or other contributor may give more to a candidate or a candidate’s authorized political committee(s) than an amount determined under the law for the office sought by the candidate. This is called the election limit. This amount is the maximum that the candidate may receive from any one contributor during the campaign cycle for the particular election.”

Under State Election Law, §14-114(1)(b)(ii), the formula for calculating the election limit for local elections is 5 cents for each active registered voter in the candidate’s district or town. In Riverhead that number is 23,702 active voters this year, so the candidate’s election limit is $1,185.10 for Riverhead Town offices.

The Suffolk County elections commissioners confirmed this calculation. 

Aguiar campaign treasurer: campaign contribution questions ‘a witch hunt’

Nevertheless, both Carr and Aguiar were adamant that her campaign can accept up to $5,000 from corporations.

“Corporate and incorporations are permitted to give $5,000,” Aguiar said Monday afternoon, repeating an assertion she made during a candidate debate hosted by RiverheadLOCAL and recorded Thursday evening. “If you want to write that because you want to write negative things, go ahead,” she said.

Carr doubled down on Aguiar’s statement in a phone interview Tuesday. “Your interpretation of something and my interpretation is two different things,” Carr told a reporter.

“You can run with that if you’d like, okay? I’m not going to go back because I talk to them all the time. That’s why I’m the treasurer,” Carr said. “So that’s why I gave the refunds back, that was supposed to be refunds that were back. I’m not going to go back and forth with you on this. Okay? I’m not gonna do it,” he said.

Carr called RiverheadLOCAL’s inquiry into Aguiar’s campaign finances a “witch hunt” motivated by politics. “It’s this time of year. I understand it, I understand. I’ve been in politics for a long time, okay. And I understand what goes on,” Carr said.

Among the outstanding excess contributions from corporations and LLCs is a $2,500 contribution in August from Park Strategies, a lobbying firm founded by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. Park Strategies is a registered lobbyist for NextEra Energy, which in the past year received town approvals for a utility-scale solar energy facility in Calverton. Park Strategies previously represented Calverton Aviation & Technology, an affiliate of Triple Five Group, and currently in a $40 million contract with Riverhead to buy 1,643 acres of vacant industrial land in Calverton. 

Another above-the-limit contribution to the Aguiar campaign was $3,815 from Island Water Park Group, which has a site plan application pending before the Riverhead Town Board. Aguiar has touted the project as a job generator and tourist attraction, calling the project “a smaller version of Disney” in an interview with the New York Post. 

Two political action committees representing construction workers and builders gave large contributions to Aguiar. The International Union of Operating Engineers, whose Local 138 represents many construction workers on Long Island, gave $2,000, while the Long Island Builders Institute, whose members include a host of developers, builders and contractors, gave $3,000. PACs are also subject to the election limit of $1,185, according to the board of elections.

Other contributions over the limit include $1,500 from Closet Quest Inc., which operates the custom closet and cabinet store California Closet; $2,500 from Squad Security, a security firm based in Uniondale made up of current and former law enforcement officials; $1,750 from the operators of the Riverhead Cider House; $1,750 from real estate company Stark Homes, which operates Glenwood Village; and $3,000 from Apple Honda.

The supervisor also received $4,000 from Parkland Golf Inc., a golf course operator in Medford. Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyards donated a total of $3,500, but the campaign refunded  $1,315, leaving a remainder of $2,185.

H2M, the town’s planning and engineering consulting firm, gave three separate times in the current cycle for a total of $1,750.

Both Aguiar and Carr rebuffed questions about whether campaign contributions from individuals and companies who have or will soon have applications before the town would affect Aguiar’s decision-making. 

“I do not get involved with my campaign. My campaign finances is supposed to be run totally separate. I’m the elected official,” Aguiar said. 

“That’s why I’m the treasurer,” Carr said. “The treasurer is kept separate from the campaign. I don’t discuss what money comes in with her, okay. That’s why you have somebody different.”

One other candidate, Democratic Town Council candidate Juan Micieli-Martinez has two contributors over the $1,185 limit listed in his disclosure statement: three $1,000 donations from Nassrallah Misk, a real estate developer who co-owns Clovis Point Vineyards in Laurel, and two $750 donations from the JAH Group, which owns restaurants in Southampton. 

Micieli-Martinez said in a phone call he accidentally listed duplicates of the donations on the disclosures and his campaign has only received $1,000 from Misk and $750 from JAH Group. 

“I do think that that’s more of a clerical error that I have yet to correct, because I do not have those funds in my account,” he said.

Aguiar does have until Election Day to refund excess contributions to be within the limits set by the law, the State BOE’s Conklin said. Her committee’s closing balance on Oct. 18, the end of the reporting period for the 11-Day Pre-General Report, was $9,710.77, after spending $18,334.03 in the reporting period. There is one more reporting period in the current election cycle from Oct. 19 through Nov. 25. The 27-Day Post-General Report, which covers that period is due to be filed on Nov. 29.

In 2019, Aguiar picked up $31,530 in contributions between Oct. 22 and Dec. 6, $24,975 after Election Day.

Correction: The original version of this article only counted one $2,500 contribution of Parkland Golf Inc. to the Aguiar campaign. Aguiar received two other contributions from Parkland Golf Inc, one for $1,000 and one for $500, making Parkland Golf Inc’s total contribution $4,000. The article has been amended to reflect the correct amount.

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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.