Police and code enforcement officers in both East Hampton and Southamption Towns are investigating a Jericho company called Hamptons and Sons for hosting massive after-prom and graduation parties at rented houses whose owners were told their houses would be used for an extended family reunion.
According to law enforcement sources and angry parents, Lee Hnetinka, 25, the company’s principal, ran two and three-day parties at the houses, sometimes with as many as 100 teenagers, each of whom paid hundreds of dollars to attend. Hard liquor and beer were allegedly allowed to under-age drinkers at the sites.
Lucy Sachs, whose family owns property on Oceanview Lane in the Devon Colony section of Amagansett, said she was taken in by Mr. Hnetinka. An overnight party with as many as 98 students was held at the family house on June 8.
“This house was built by my great-great-grandfather in 1909,” Ms. Sachs said last week. To cover expenses, she said, the family rented the 14-bedroom, chateau-style house to Mr. Hnetinka from May 29 through June 26, for $30,000.
“He told us he was going to have a family reunion here. He’s the smoothest-talking guy imaginable,” she said.
The parties began right after Mr. Hnetinka’s company took over the property, according to Ms. Sachs. She came by the next day to drop off a document, “and there were two bedraggled teenagers in the kitchen. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ They just looked at me. I noticed that there were garbage bags with beer bottles, and the house was a mess.”
She was concerned but left without comment. “I believed they were just sloppy people,” she said.
A few days later, she drove by and saw a mound of garbage bags piled by the trash bins. She opened a bin to put the bags inside and was surprised to find it full to overflowing. So were the other bins.
“There was nobody in the house, no people. I stuck my head in, thinking the guy was on the up-and-up.” By the looks of the kitchen and dining room, Ms. Sachs said, it was apparent there had been a party there.
Still believing in Mr. Hnetinka’s “family reunion,” she sent him a text message and left the property.
Then, at 5 in the morning on June 8, a neighbor called.
“He said, ‘I was awakened at 2:15 when party buses arrived with a disco ball, idling in the driveway. It sounded like the Hampton Jitney had arrived.’”
Ms. Sachs said she called Mr. Hnetinka and asked, “ ‘What’s happening here?’ He said, ‘My aunt is having a graduation party for her child.’ ”
A 2012 graduate of Herricks High School who was on one of the three buses that awakened the neighbor said on Monday that Mr. Hnetinka had been at the house to greet them when they arrived.
“We were supposed to be there from Thursday night to Sunday at 1 p.m.,” said the teenager, Zach Breit. According to Mr. Breit, the 98 students had each paid $355 for the stay.
The students were met also by a security team. Hamptons and Sons had a how-to manual for the team’s use, with step-by-step instructions about alcohol, garbage, sleeping arrangements, and the like. Ms. Sachs obtained a copy of the manual from one of the security guards after Mr. Hnetinka was evicted and gave it to The Star.
When the buses first arrive, says the manual, “Say to the kids: Get off the bus and walk into the house quietly! The neighbors are sleeping and if we wake them up they will call the police to shut down the party. . . . Anything you take off the bus should not be brought into a bedroom. . . . They should just hang out (not drink yet) and wait until everyone gets there and you read the rules.”
“Once everyone is inside and in the same room . . . we want to know about any 1. Knives. 2. Guns 3. Hard alcohol and mikes. 4. Beer. 5. Drugs. 6. And prescription drugs . . . the prescription drugs will be given back should the person need them and they have a prescription. The hard alcohol will be given back once we feel you have earned it and you see they are a young adult and can handle it. This may be 5 minutes or 5 hours; it depends on if you guys lie to us.”
“Give back only the hard alcohol,” the manual instructs the security team, “under your digression [sic].”
“Only give back hard alcohol that is clear,” it specifies. “Do not give back any rum, gin or tequila. I do not allow those! Obviously do not give back drugs, knives or guns.”
The manual goes on to cover rules about the use of the pool (no diving), the air-conditioners (not to be set below 65), noise (no amplified music outdoors), beer (no stacking it in the fridge; “the shelves will break”), and so forth, but the greatest emphasis by far is on keeping nosy officials away from the premises.
“Do not open front door ever. . . . If you open the front door by accident tell them to hold on and do not let them in. Close the door and get the security guard. . . . Should code enforcement or police come to the property . . . 1. Do not let them inside. . . . Close the door and call a representative from Hamptons and Sons immediately; call us right away — do not speak to them!”
By the time the rules were read out and the searches were complete, Mr. Breit said, it was almost 5 a.m. The students took their air mattresses and sleeping bags upstairs to their pre-assigned rooms.
Mr. Hnetinka drove off in a Porsche.
It was then that Ms. Sachs got the phone call and hurried over to her family’s house.
“There were security guards here, I forget how many. Guys in black shirts.”
Ms. Sachs stormed into the house. There was food scattered around, she said, and she smelled marijuana smoke. She saw some teenagers eating and drinking, but most were asleep. She went upstairs, where the house has bedroom after bedroom in its three wings.
“It was clear to me at that point that there had to be about 100 18-year-olds in this house. There were air beds in every bedroom.”
By 8:30 a.m., several other family members had arrived to assist. Together, they confronted the students, who were now beginning to wake up.
“ ‘Where are Lee’s relatives?’ ” Ms. Sachs says she asked.
“They looked at me blankly. I said. ‘Why are you here? How did you come to be here?’ They said, ‘The girl who organized it is in the dining room.’ ”
Jenna Madonna, who did not return phone calls from The Star, said, according to Ms. Sachs, that Mr. Hnetinka had represented himself as the owner of the house, as well as two houses in Sag Harbor, where the party was originally scheduled to take place. He changed the location at the last minute because, Mr. Breit and others said, of “noise complaints” in Sag Harbor.
Ms. Sachs confronted Mr. Hnetinka on the phone. “I said, ‘This is ridiculous. You’ve lied to me. There is no aunt.’ ”
At that point, Mr. Hnetinka told the guards that the students would have to vacate.
For the students, the next few hours were nightmarish. First, they had to find their way home. The buses were gone. Parents drove out. One family rented two vans from an East Hampton livery company. Ms. Sachs and several members of her family shuttled many of them to the train station.
“Many of the parents had 8 to 10 kids in a car,” Mr. Breit said. His own parents drove their son and seven others back to New Hyde Park.
Once home, the familes had to wrestle with a new problem: Where was their money? Mr. Hnetinka had been given well over $30,000.
Sheri Lamagna, the mother of Blake Lamagna, told her daughter, “Blake, the money is gone.”
Richard Beau Dietl, a former New York City police detective and father of one of the partygoers, Beau Dietl, said on Saturday that “I’m looking for him to get locked up for fraud and grand larceny,” as well as endangering the health of minors. Mr. Dietl, who is now head of Investigations.com, a private firm, paid $355 for his son to attend his graduation party.
“That was the best $355 I ever spent,” he said. He has been contacting school districts in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, warning them about Mr. Hnetinka and Hamptons and Sons. “He thinks he can get away. We’ll do what we got to do.”
The Amagansett party was not Mr. Hnetinka’s only one that weekend.
“My son was in a house on Parrish Pond Lane in Southampton with 31 other kids,” Judge Richard Kestenbaum of Great Neck said last week. The group paid Mr. Hnetinka $16,000 for the party, “most of which was in cash,” said Mr. Kestenbaum. “During the first day there, the code enforcement showed up and asked them to leave.”
Mr. Hnetinka, who, said the judge, was there when it happened, told the students they would have to vacate, promising they would receive a refund. But afterward, said Mr.Kestenbaum, an attorney representing Mr. Hnetinka told him there would be no refund coming.
According to Hamptons and Sons’ how-to manual, Mr. Hnetinka had at least seven houses at his disposal, including properties on Daniel’s Hole Road in Wainscott, Parrish Pond Lane in Southampton, Noyac Path in Noyac, Brick Kiln Road in Sag Harbor, and two on Jeffery Lane in East Quogue, plus the Amagansett house.
Besides its general instructions, the Hamptons and Sons manual lays out details specific to each property. In the case of the Oceanview Lane house, students arriving in their own cars were told to park them at the Amagansett train station. Vehicles belonging to guests at the Noyac Path house were to be left in the parking lot at Bridgehampton Commons.
Mr. Breit said that Ms. Madonna, an organizer of the Amagansett group, was to have had a meeting with Mr. Hnetinka on June 25, at which he would return all the Herricks School checks. The meeting never happened, he said on Monday, and the group is contemplating a lawsuit.
Ms. Sachs and her family said they served Mr. Hnetinka with an eviction notice for violating his lease by renting the house to the student groups, and hired round-the-clock security to guard the property. Twice during the weeks following, she said, he showed up with a locksmith, trying to gain entrance, once with two lawyers and two security guards in tow. Ms. Sachs’s sister Joannie Mackall documented the latter visit on a cellphone camera. The police were summoned on both occasions, and Mr. Hnetinka did not gain entrance.
Had he done so, said Chief Edward Ecker Jr. of the East Hampton Town Police, it would have been very difficult to dislodge him.
“You can’t just throw him out,” the chief said, citing New York State law in regard to tenant rights, until an owner obtains a court order for eviction. The chief declined to comment further on Mr. Hnetinka, other than to say that town police are investigating.
The students in the Oceanview Lane house left behind several water bottles, containing what smelled and tasted like flavored vodkas. Two were labeled in black marker with what was apparently a student’s name. Ms. Sachs has put them aside in case the police need them for their investigation.
David Betts, the head of code enforcement in Southampton Town, would not go into specifics but did say that a case involving five different party houses was moving into civil court. He would neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Hnetinka was the target of that investigation.
However, according to the Southampton Town Justice Court calendar, Mr. Hnetinka is to be arraigned on July 13 at 1 p.m. in connection with at least seven violations.
There are many code violations that could be invoked against party houses. There are limitations on the size of a gathering and restrictions on running a business in a residential space. Also, the town code of Southampton prohibits short-term (fewer than 30 days) leases.
“I’ve communicated with the Town of Southampton,” Mr. Kestenbaum said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll go after him.”
“We’ve got to push it, because if we don’t, there’s going to be a tragedy, and as a former law enforcement agent, I don’t think we can accept that,” Mr. Dietl said.
“I think he should go to jail,” Mr. Breit said, adding that he and his friends had worked to save their money for a graduation party.
“Money is money. We’d all like to get it back, but I really hope this guy doesn’t do this to anyone else.”
Mr. Hnetinka did not respond to calls or text messages requesting comment or an interview. The Hamptons and Sons web site was no longer online as of Monday morning.