Lee Hnetinka, a 25-year-old Long Island man facing 60 charges in Southampton Town for allegedly renting houses in violation of the town code for large parties following school proms and similar events, was arraigned on Friday in Southampton Town Justice Court on over 100 new counts, and then again on Tuesday on 10 more. Tuesday’s charges allege repeated violations, including rentals as recently as three weeks ago.
The bulk of the charges, according to Michael Sendlenski, assistant town attorney, are unclassified misdemeanors. They include transient rentals to party groups, renting without a permit, and violating state fire code regulations for sleeping areas. Mr. Hnetinka allegedly allowed up to 100 teenagers per house.
Mr. Hnetinka is also said to have subleased at least two houses in the Town of East Hampton for similar parties according to their owners. No charges have been filed in East Hampton, however. Asked why no charges had been filed, Patrick Gunn, the attorney who oversees the East Hampton Town Ordinance Enforcement Department, would not comment other than to send an e-mail. “The local issues were handled by the Police Department,” it read. In an interview in late June, Edward V. Ecker, the chief of police, said it was difficult to use the penal code in connection with this kind of incident.
Friday’s arraignment was particularly contentious. Mr. Sendlenski had initially asked for $15,000 bail on all the charges, which were presented in three dockets, or groupings. But after a heated exchange between Justice Kooperstein and Mr. Hnetinka’s attorney, Michael A. Gajdos, over whether Mr. Hnetinka was a flight risk, Justice Kooperstein set bail at $15,000 for each of the three, or $45,000.
Each misdemeanor charge, Mr. Sendlenski said later, could result in fines ranging from $1,500 to $15,000, as well as two times the rental payments — frequently $10,000 or more — that Mr. Hnetinka allegedly collected on each occasion. He could also face up to a year in prison on each of the misdemeanor charges.
As she got ready to set bail, the justice noted the severity and number of charges and Mr. Hnetinka’s lack of connection to the area. Mr. Gajdos argued that his client’s very presence in court showed he was not a flight risk. He 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,” the justice said.
Mr. Hnetinka appeared stunned. He handed his jacket to his attorney, was handcuffed, and led off to county jail in Riverside. Bail was posted for him that evening, and he was released. He had been released on $10,000 bail after his July arraignment.
Leslie Jennemann, a Bridgehampton real estate agent linked by the Southampton town attorney’s office to Mr. Hnetinka during his July 12 arraignment, was in court on Friday as well, facing 20 similar charges. According to her attorney, William Grigo, as well as Mr. Sendlenski, the town has offered her a “global” settlement — a fine of $75,000 — on all the charges.
Mr. Grigo said on Friday that he and his client would weigh the offer and make a decision before her next court date, Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. Ms. Jennemann said she had never seen Mr. Hnetinka before. Ms. Jennemann served time in 2004 after being convicted of a 2002 hit-and-run accident that killed a migrant worker.
Another man alleged to have worked with Mr. Hnetinka, Matthew J. Lapides, was in court on Friday as well, facing four misdemeanor charges. He is also represented by Mr. Gajdos, and he sat with Mr. Hnetinka in the front row.
According to Mr. Sendlenski, Mr. Lapides worked as a security guard for at least two of the alleged illegal rentals, following a detailed instruction manual issued by Mr. Hnetinka’s company, Hamptons and Sons. He is accused of refusing to allow town inspectors into the buildings; they then obtained search warrants to gain entrance.
The sparring between Mr. Gajdos and the justice began early on Friday, when Justice Kooperstein made it clear that she would not tolerate what she considered evasive answers regarding bail. In the July arraignment, Mr. Hnetinka had given her three conflicting answers about his employment. With regard to local connections, a pivotal factor in setting bail, Mr. Sendlenski said in July that Mr. Hnetinka had no ties to the community, “other than engaging in criminal endeavors.”
Mr. Hnetinka had entered the court Friday smiling, and he joked and laughed with Mr. Lapides, appearing much more at ease than during his July court appearance. The mood was short-lived.
“Where does he work and what does he do?” the justice asked Mr. Gajdos about Mr. Hnetinka. The two men huddled. “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 Mr. Hnetinka managed real estate.
“Is he a real estate broker?”
“Is he an agent?”
Later, Justice Kooperstein asked, “What other properties does he manage?” Mr. Hnetinka and Mr. Gajdos whispered back and forth. “Am I not clear?” the justice asked, repeating the question. “None, your honor,” was Mr. Gajdos’s response. “Then he is unemployed,” the justice said.
Where Mr. Hnetinka lives and works also was an issue. The court had been given an address in Jericho, but an address in Flushing had been given for his business.
“The court is very troubled,” Justice Kooperstein said. “If I have a person standing in front of me who is giving me false information, then he is a risk for flight.”
One of the charges facing Mr. Hnetinka is an alleged “bait and switch” operation. He is said to have rented out a fictitious property (at 2112 Noyac Road), then contacted the renter three days before the scheduled occupancy announcing that the house was no longer available but offering a different property on Montauk Highway.
The rental was for a party being planned by the family of Robert Acker, a North Massapequa attorney. According to Mr. Acker, Mr. Hnetinka promised a partial refund and a return of the security deposit, but neither was received. He contacted Southampton authorities.
In court on Tuesday for the newest arraignment, Brian J. DeSesa of Edward D. Burke Jr. Associates stood in for Mr. Gajdos, who was at another court proceeding.
“This defendant was disingenuous, to say the least,” Justice Kooperstein told Mr. DeSesa. Referring to previous appearances, she said, “He did not give basic information that any defendant should give a judge,” noting the addresses Mr. Hnetinka had given the court, particularly an address in Queens.
“His father owns that building,” Mr. DeSesa said. (Mr. Hnetinka’s father apparently owns buildings at both addresses given to the court.)
“I had asked Mr. Hnetinka if he managed any properties outside of Southampton, and he said, ‘No,’ ” she said. “He came to court because he is charged with violating town code. He can’t go back in time. His credibility remains in doubt,” she said, setting the bail at an additional $2,500. The total now held by the court is $57,500. She also set a return date of Oct. 5.
Mr. Hnetinka’s parents were seated next to him during the proceeding, and they agreed to post the additional $2,500 bail. Mr. Hnetinka exited the court separately from his parents, however, got into his car, and drove away.