Lee Hnetinka, a Jericho man already facing over 60 charges in Southampton Town related to party house rentals for proms, graduation parties, and other similar events, was arraigned on Friday in Southampton Justice Court on over 100 new counts. The new charges allege repeated violations, including party-house rentals that occurred after his first arraignment on July 13.
Mr. Hnetinka is said to have used at least two houses in East Hampton houses for similar party subleases, according to their owners. No charges have been filed by the Town of East Hampton.
Mr. Hnetinka was lead away Friday and taken to county jail in Riverside, unable to meet the $45,000 bail on the new charges set by Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein.
Michael Sendlenski, assistant town attorney for Southampton, had initially asked for $15,000 bail on the new charges, which were listed in three separate court dockets. But after a heated exchange between Justice Kooperstein and Mr. Hnetinka’s attorney, Michael A. Gajdos, over whether or not Mr. Hnetinka was a flight risk, Justice Kooperstein set bail at $15,000 per docket, making the total $45,000. Mr. Hnetinka had been released on $10,000 bail after his July arraignment.
Each misdemeanor charge, Mr. Sendlenski said later, could result in fines ranging from $1,500 to $3,000, as well as two times the rental payment Mr. Hnetinka allegedly collected on each occasion, frequently $10,000 or more, as well as facing up to a year in prison on each charge.
The sparring between Mr. Gajdos and the justice began early, when Justice Kooperstein made it clear that she would not tolerate what she considered evasive answers related to setting bail. In the July arraignment Mr., Hnetinka had given her three conflicting answers as who his employer was and what he did for a living.
About his local connections, a pivotal factor in setting bail, Mr. Sendlenski said at the time, Mr. Hnetinka had no ties to the community, “other than engaging in criminal endeavors.”
Mr. Hnetinka had entered the court, smiling, and while not talking to reporters, he joked and laughed as he sat in the front row, appearing much more at ease than in his first appearance before the justice. The jocular mood was short-lived. Mr. Sendlenski brought in a box that inches, containing the new charges.
“Where does he work and what does he do?” the justice asked Mr. Gajdos, who then huddled with Mr. Hnetinka.
“He is the owner of Hamptons and Sons,” was the reply.
“And what is the nature of the business,” she asked.
Mr. Gajdos told her he managed real estate.
“Is he a real estate broker?”
“Is he an agent?”
Later, Justice Kooperstein said, “When I asked you what he did for a living, he said he was a property manager.” Besides the alleged illegal rentals, she asked, “What other properties does he manage?”
Mr. Hnetinka and Mr. Gajdos again whispered back and forth.
“Am I not clear?” the justice asked, “What other properties does he manage?”
“None, your honor,” was Mr. Gajdos response.
“Then he is unemployed.”
Next came where Mr. Hnetinka lives and works. The court was given an address in Jericho, but a second address for his business was introduced, this one in Flushing.
“The court is very troubled,” she said, that the information she was being given did not seem credible.
“If I have a person standing in front of me who is giving me false information, then he is a risk for flight,” she said.
At that point, the latest charge, dating from Aug. 16, according to Mr. Sendlenski, was given to the justice, who reviewed the document. Mr. Sendlenski then asked bail to be set at $15,000.
The justice noted the severity and number of charges, as well as Mr. Hnetinka’s lack of connection to the area.
Mr. Gajdos argued that his client’s very presence in court showed that he was not a flight risk.
“I believe he is a risk of not returning,” she said, tripling the bail requested by the people.
Mr. Gajdos angrily challenged the justice, saying there was laughter in the court during the proceedings.
“Take him into custody. He can be bailed out 24 hours a day. This is not funny. I am deeply concerned,” she said.
Mr. Hnetinka looked stunned. He handed his jacket to his attorney, was handcuffed, and led away.
Update: Mr. Hnetinka was freed late Friday after posting bail. (Added Saturday, Sept. 8, 1:43 p.m.)