Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio’s July 16 campaign finance reports show that she spent $3,881 in campaign contributions on legal fees paid to attorney Anton Borovina in June.
Mr. Borovina initially represented Ms. Giglio in the ethics complaint filed against her by the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing. The complaint argued that she should recuse herself from voting on the qualified and eligible sponsor designation for Calverton Aviation & Technology because she had met privately with CAT principals in Manhattan March 12 to discuss their proposed deal with the town.
Mr. Borovina accompanied Ms. Giglio during subsequent meetings with the town ethics board, which has been asked to make a recommendation on the recusal issue.
To date, the ethics board has not made a recommendation.
Ms. Giglio has since switched lawyers, and is now represented by Keith Brown of Brown Altman in Melville.
Ms. Giglio defended the use of campaign funds to cover for attorney fees.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t need a lawyer if I wasn’t an elected official,” she said in an interview.
The House of Representative’s committee on ethics states that it is “generally permissible under House Rules for a member to use campaign funds to defend legal actions arising out of his or her campaign, election, or the performance of official duties.”
It states that “campaign funds may not be used when the action is primarily personal in nature, such as a matrimonial action, or could result in a direct personal benefit for the Member.”
Elected officials’ use of campaign contributions for legal fees is not new, and has been something of a hot topic both statewide and nationally.
Former Nassau County executive Edward Mangano, former state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and former state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver have all used campaign funding to pay legal defense fees, although those all involved criminal cases.
President Donald Trump has also spent campaign contributions on legal fees, including those related to the suit filed against him by porn star Stormy Daniels.
Campaign funding totals
There are no Riverhead Town elections this fall, but that hasn’t stopped Democratic Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Ms. Giglio, a Republican, from raising — and spending — lots of money.
The latest campaign finance reports, released by the state Board of Elections July 16, show Ms. Jens-Smith having raised $12,850 and spent $6,048 under the Friends of Laura Jens-Smith campaign committee.
The reports indicate Ms. Giglio raised $10,385 and spent $9,074 under the Jodi Giglio for Riverhead Town Council banner.
Other incumbent board members raised considerably less.
Republican Councilman Tim Hubbard didn’t raise or spend anything, according to the July filings. Democratic Councilwoman Catherine Kent raised nothing and spent $372, the report shows, and Republican Councilman Jim Wooten, who will not run for re-election because of term limits, didn’t raise or spend anything.
“I had my fundraiser,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “Obviously, I’m going to run again. It’s just raising funds so I’ll be able to run again.”
“I have fundraisers every year when it’s an off year [for town elections],” Ms. Giglio said. “It’s always been a regular thing for me to have fundraisers, whether I’m running or not. And I’m proud to say a lot of residents and businesses support me.”
The Riverhead Republican Committee actually raised more than Ms. Jens-Smith or Ms. Giglio, according to the July 16 filings, which show that took in $24,900 and spent $17,706. The Riverhead Democratic Committee did not have a report on file.
Did CAT give money?
Critics of the proposal from CAT and Triple Five Group to buy and develop land from Riverhead Town at the Enterprise Park at Calverton had suggested earlier this year that Triple Five’s principals would be making campaign contributions to town officials.
The only member of the Ghermezian family who made a campaign contribution this year, according to the July 16 campaign contribution reports, is Justin Ghermezian of Riverdale.
He contributed $2,500 to the Suffolk County Republican Committee in June.
Justin Ghermezian is the son of Nader Ghermezian, the chairman of Triple Five, which owns 80 percent of CAT.