Riverhead Democratic Committee chairman Vinny Villella and Greg Fischer, who is running a primary against the committee’s choice for supervisor, went toe to toe Monday night at a press conference the Democrats had called to accuse Mr. Fischer of petition fraud.
Mr. Fischer crashed the press conference with a press release of his own, accusing his opponent in the primary, former Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale, of doing nothing in 2007 when Mr. Fischer reported that his child had been abducted.
The press event was scheduled prior to the group’s regular committee meeting at the Pizza Pie & General Store in Wading River, but when Mr. Fischer and Mr. Villella starting arguing back and forth, committee members soon threw the press and public out of the eatery.
Committee members then said they were going into a meeting for committee members only.
The specific charges made by Democrats against Mr. Fischer involve signatures from two prominent Riverhead residents — the Rev. Charles Coverdale of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead and his wife, Shirley Coverdale — that Mr. Fischer collected on his required nominating petition to force the primary.
Mr. Villella said the Coverdales say they never signed petitions for Mr. Fischer, and the Democratic committee leader called for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to investigate the matter.
Mr. Fischer said the signatures are real, although he acknowledged that he didn’t witness the Coverdales signing the petition.
“These signatures are forgeries,” Mr. Villella charged, reading from a prepared statement. “On behalf of the Riverhead Democratic Committee, I am asking the District Attorney to quickly investigate this matter, given that the rights of the voters, especially the Coverdales, are at stake.”
The Coverdales went to the district attorneys office with the complaint, but had since gone on vacation and were not in attendance Monday, Mr. Villella said.
“But they are very angry with the situation that’s in front of them,” he said.
The Democrats did not file any objections to Mr. Fischer’s petition, but Mr. Villella said Mr. Fischer “bragged” about having Ms. Coverdale’s signature.
“This is something that’s very important; you don’t mess around with forgery and fraud,” Mr. Villella said.
Terri Scofield, who lives in Medford and frequently blogs about Suffolk politics, was at the meeting Monday as well. She said she talked to Shirley Coverdale Friday and that Ms. Coverdale denied signing Mr. Fischer’s petition. Ms. Coverdale was a Democratic council candidate in 2009.
“False reporting is a Class A misdemeanor, so I actually look forward to wherever this is going to go,” Mr. Fischer responded.
He then started to hand out his own press release, claiming Mr. Cardinale “aided and abetted a child abduction” in 2007.
Mr. Fischer, who frequently has had issues with his wife involving child custody, said in 2007 he reported his child abducted to the Riverhead Town Police. He said police did nothing, and claimed they were directed to do so by Mr. Cardinale, who was town supervisor at the time.
“You are putting a criminal up, that’s why I’m running,” Mr. Fischer said.
“You’re the criminal for doing this forgery,” Mr. Villella shot back.
Mr. Fischer said the signatures are not forgeries.
“I’ve got four times the number of signatures that I needed,” he said later. “Why would I need to forge the Coverdales?”
Mr. Cardinale, himself a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, has never been charged with any crime. He was present Monday but made no comment in response to the accusations.
Ms. Scofield, who Mr. Fischer said was his campaign manager when he ran for state Senate in 2008, also got into it with Ruth Pollack, who is running a primary for the Democratic nomination to Town Council and is running as a team with Mr. Fischer.
Ms. Scofield called Ms. Pollock “a disbarred lawyer.”
Ms. Pollack said she’s not disbarred, but that her license to practice law was suspended “for being a whistleblower against corruption so that people like you could have first amendment rights to shoot off their mouths.” Ms. Pollock claims her license was suspended in 2009 after she testified before a state Senate committee on grievances against judges and lawyers alleging that court records were being destroyed improperly.
Though she may be only suspended from practicing in New York, a March 28 story on Law.com, a site dedicated to legal news, indicates she has been disbarred on a federal level and was then sanctioned “for holding herself out as ‘admitted to the federal Bar of the State of New York’ on her website,” the story reads.
The rest of Mr. Villella’s speech, which he never got to read in its entirety, says that “it is well known that Fischer is currently scheduled to stand trial next month in Suffolk County on obstruction charges.”
Mr. Fischer is facing charges of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration, a misdemeanor, failure to obey a police officer, an infraction, and an improper turn infraction. He says he believes those charges, who he says involves the abduction of his children to Wyoming by his wife, will be dismissed.
His next court date on the case, which has been repeatedly adjourned, is scheduled for Sept. 8 in First District Court in Central Islip, just five days before the Sept. 13 primary vote.