May 09, 2007
In East Hampton Springs Man Charges Town With Harassment
If East Hampton Town issued the same summonses to its politicians, they would all be in the poor house by now.
So when George M. Miller was cited for putting a sign on a telephone pole, it was the final straw in what he says has been years of harassment on behalf of the town. And it all began six years ago when he filed a complaint against a police lieutenant, who is now the Town Supervisor – Bill McGintee.
Miller said that since McGintee has been elected, the town's code enforcement department – headed by McGintee's close friend Dominic Schrrippa – has engaged in a campaign of harassment and selective enforcement, and he has filed suit against the town as a result. "He's got code enforcement in his pocket," Miller said of McGintee.
According to several sources, the two engaged in a shouting match outside town hall in February.
"It has ruined our life," said Allison Miller, George Miller's wife.
"This guy has been haunting me," Mr. Miller said. "My life turned to shit after I filed a complaint with Internal Affairs."
"It's absolutely untrue," McGintee countered. "I have nothing against the guy. I'm much too busy to get involved in code enforcement."
Miller runs a scrap metal business. Code Enforcement officers routinely spy on his house, come onto his property without permission, and issue summonses, the couple said.
Town officials, however, said no such conspiracy exists, and that Miller had ample time to clean up his yard but didn't. "Absolutely not," Schrrippa answered when asked if McGintee had intervened in Miller's case.
Miller runs a salvage business and uses one flat bed truck. He has been cited for running a business out of his 9th Street house in Springs, despite the fact about two dozen businesses in the immediate neighborhood – some apparently much larger than his – are doing the same thing with impunity.
"One guy has four or five trucks and a cherry picker at his house right down the block all the time," Miller said "Another guy has a cement truck with four trucks. The guys show up every morning at six o'clock."
"We investigate complaints," Schrrippa said in response to a question about why a code enforcement officer would drive by an illegal business and ignore it on the way to issue a citation to another.
Schrrippa said Miller was initially targeted in January, 2005 after a neighbor complained. "Still, we didn't cite him until August."
In preparation for the defense of their case, the Millers have gathered affidavits from their neighbors that contradict statements made by code enforcement officials. Jerome and Roberta Weissberger, who live 50 feet away, stated, "George and Allison have taken great steps to improve the property . . . [they are] nice quiet people.
Curt Chapman, who has lived across the from the street Millers for 53 years, swore in his statement, "Our area has many people who provides services . . . carpenters, plumbers, masons, electricians . . . fisherman with boats, nets and gear in his yard. George picks up vehicles to be scrapped, they remain on his truck overnight, and then he leaves early the next morning . . . his yard is fenced in." In fact, the neighbors agree, the property has been cleaned up and improved since the Millers purchased it in 2005.
Furthermore, Miller contends he has on two occasions tried to comply with the code, only to be thwarted by the town.
Once he was told he couldn't park on his own property he received permission from George Franzone, then the second assistant chief of the Montauk Fire Department, to park his flat-bed truck on a parcel of land in Wainscott that the local fire departments use for training purposes. Miller had endeared himself to the Montauk FD by donating cars for controlled burns and "jaws of life" drills for the past 15 years.
"I checked with [Councilwoman] [Pat] Mansir and she said it was alright," Franzone recalled. "Then all of a sudden I get a letter from the town telling me it's got to be moved." Franzone said the letter came from Dave DiSunno, the now retired town fire marshal. "I know guys with five trucks in their driveways and nobody bothers them. This guy is only trying to make a living," Franzone said of Miller.
Miller found some vacant land owned by a friend by the railroad tracks in Amagansett to store junk cars. Once again the Code Enforcement department intervened, ordering him to move.
"I don't know anything about that," Schrrippa claimed, though he acknowledged meeting with the Millers.
As for charging Miller with "posting of handbills," Schrrippa said, "there is a difference if a guy has a sign saying `fresh eggs' and advertising a business. He says he thinks politicians are exempt. It's like a public service," he offered.
However the Town Code apparently makes no such stipulation. Section 167-1-B states: "Any sign erected or existing in violation of the East Hampton Town Code shall be deemed litter and shall be subject to the provisions of this chapter relating thereto." Tiffany Scarlato, an East Hampton Town Attorney, acknowledged the Code doesn't differentiate one type of sign from another but said political signage is exempt because it falls under protections granted under the U.S. Constitution for "free speech."
"I see hundreds of signs – for sale, pets, boats, for rent, and I don't see those people getting tickets," Miller remarked. Schrrippa said there have been 120 such tickets issued since 2000.
It all started, Miller said, when he filed a civilian complaint against Joseph Fallacara, a newly hired town cop who Miller said was harassing him. McGintee took the complaint and wrote "complainant is satisfied after discussion with undersigned [McGintee.] Investigation closed." Miller said no such discussion occurred. He then filed a complaint with Internal Affairs against McGintee, which was apparently dismissed. Shortly after, Fallacara pulled Miller over and issued several tickets, including one for not wearing a seatbelt.
"The guy came in twice to file civilian complaints." McGintee recalled. "I merely took the info and made a determination."
A confrontation between McGintee and Miller occurred February 6 this year outside town hall that quickly escalated into a shouting match. Ms. Miller says she recorded a portion on her cell phone, with the supervisor allegedly warning her husband: "Don't push me, boy!"
McGintee then sought out Miller's attorney, Kerry Bassett, and admonished her to "control your client."
"There were women and children around," McGintee said.
"It was a really upsetting experience," Bassett recalled. "He put his finger in my face, I was up against the wall. I was frightened." Though Bassett said the town supervisor raised his voice to her, no one else in town hall recalled hearing the exchange, which occurred in the vestibule.
Miller does not make it easy for himself, admitting to giving McGintee the finger and telling the town supervisor, "I ain't afraid of you."
"George doesn't take any shit," his wife said. "He doesn't scare very easily."