Surprising Lawsuit May Reverberate

Last week’s revelations in a lawsuit brought by a former East Hampton Village police chief and his wife bring to light the distasteful truth that some local officials have long traded their influential positions for lucrative side businesses. 

It is no secret that Jerry Larsen, the former chief who is now a candidate for the East Hampton Town Board, has for years had a security business, though since about 2009 he has insisted the business was his wife’s, Lisa Larsen’s, not his. That is splitting hairs; he always remained a company officer, and it is clear that it was at least a joint effort.

Starting in 2005, Mr. Larsen ran Protec Security Services, which eventually got into the fire and burglar alarm business, as well as offered drug tests and estate watching. Trouble started when Protec began to compete with Scan Security, which employed Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. as an alarm salesman, the suit claims.

The Larsens say Mr. Rickenbach and Richard Lawler, a village trustee who had his own house-watching business, then took advantage of a section of the village ethics code to block Protec from taking on private clients within village limits as a way to limit competition and get more business for themselves. 

The village ethics code, in place since 2002, prohibits any officer or employee from accepting outside jobs or providing services that would create a conflict with his or her official duties — and that would have included the police chief. Mr. Larsen’s excuse, as described in the suit, is basically that everybody was doing it. Mr. Rickenbach and Mr. Lawler have not responded to the claims. 

The matter speaks volumes about Mr. Larsen’s character, in what can only be seen as unflattering terms. In his lawsuit, and without apparent irony, Mr. Larsen says he is trying to “hold those in power accountable for their actions.”

Rules barring this kind of outside employment were in place before Mr. Larsen became police chief. Even if he had some doubt about them, common sense might have suggested that he should not have sought a $300,000-a-year security contract at an unnamed village resident’s property while heading the village police force. 

After Mr. Larsen’s retirement in January, he took a job as head of security at the billionaire Ronald Perelman’s Creeks estate, which is in the village. Mr. Perelman was recently turned down by the village board in his bid for a new zoning classification that would have made certain problems with structures built without proper approvals at the Creeks go away.

If the allegations in the suit hold up, Mayor Rickenbach and Mr. Lawler may deserve even greater rebuke than Mr. Larsen for outright abuse of their positions for personal gain. When he went away on vacation, Mr. Rickenbach would ask various village employees to cover his up to 60 private customers for him, the suit alleges. This included asking Mr. Larsen to do so. The suit also alleges that the mayor used a village vehicle while making rounds for his personal clients, as did Mr. Lawler. The charge that they used their posts to hamper Protec is a serious one. If true, these officials have shown very bad judgment, if not serious ethical violations. 

But it is very surprising that Mr. Larsen is bringing this suit now, with the town board election about two months away. This would hardly seem the time to raise clear-cut ethical issues in which he himself is implicated. Voters might well remember this case come Election Day.