Lee Hnetinka, the alleged party-house scammer, was arraigned in Southampton Justice Court last Friday, charged with 59 infringements of the Southampton Town Code. The charges, most of them misdemeanors, stem, police said, from a massive fraud he perpetrated on unsuspecting homeowners, telling them that his company, Hamptons and Sons, was renting their houses for “family reunions” when in fact it was hosting high-school graduation and prom parties attended by up to 100 teenagers. The company was separately charged with 24 code violations.
Mr. Hnetinka, dressed in a well-tailored navy blue pinstriped suit and wearing Gucci loafers, stood before Justice Deborah Kooperstein with an attorney, Michael A. Gajdos, whom he’d hired 24 hours earlier. When the court asked him what he did for a living he first answered that he was in real estate, but then said he was an “online entrepreneur,” and finally that he was an employee of Hamptons and Sons.
“If he doesn’t want to tell me what he does for a living, that’s fine,” remarked Justice Kooperstein.
Michael Sendlenski, a Southampton Town attorney, asked that bail be set at $10,000, saying that Mr. Hnetinka had no ties to the community, “other than engaging in criminal endeavors.” Seven houses in Southampton were allegedly rented by Mr. Hnetinka under false pretenses, and at least two in East Hampton Town.
Mr. Gajdos argued that his client was not a flight risk, since the court would have jurisdiction over him if he remained in Jericho, where he lives.
“Actually, that is not in my jurisdiction,” Justice Kooperstein said. “I’m just a town judge.”
She set bail at $10,000. It was met, and he was released.
As serious as the charges against Mr. Hnetinka are now, they could become worse if allegations by two women, Eileen Weiner of Commack and Katy Carlin of Chicago are proven.
Both women maintain that Mr. Hnetinka ran a bait-and-switch operation, using a house at 2212 Noyac Road in Sag Harbor as the bait. Ms. Weiner, whose son Jordan, then a senior at Commack High School, had asked her to arrange a prom party for 35 teens, went to see the nine-bedroom house in February. Mr. Hnetinka, who showed it to her himself, “talked the talk,” she said. “He knew exactly what to say.”
She liked everything about the place, not least Mr. Hnetinka’s assertion that there would be two security guards on the scene, one of them a retired police officer and the other a teacher. They turned out, instead, to be two hired employees of Alpha One Security, which has offices in several locations.
Ms. Weiner signed a contract on Feb. 12, putting down a deposit of $5,000. She paid the balance, $14,000, in April, plus a “security” fee of $20 per person.
The day before the prom, she said, Mr. Hnetinka called with bad news: Neighbors of the Noyac Road house had complained of noise there, and he had to change the site of the party. It would now be at 20 Parrish Pond Lane in Southampton, which was his personal home, he told Ms. Weiner, and “much nicer” than Noyac Road.
It proved anything but for the 35 students, as it had only four bedrooms. “They were falling over each other,” Ms. Weiner said.
Police knocked at the door at 7 a.m. on June 23, the day after the group arrived. The security guards, whose instructions were never to open the door to the police, were fast asleep, and a student let them in. The party was shut down.
A week later, Ms. Carlin had a similar experience. She had found Hamptons and Sons online, and wanted to book a weekend reunion with 15 friends, coming from as far away as Colorado and London, in the Hamptons.
“Hamptons and Sons,” she said. “They had beautiful mansions. He said his family owns these properties and rents them out.”