Ex-East Hampton Chief Sues Mayor, Police Commissioner

Mayor Paul F. Rickebach Jr., center, and Richard Lawler, right, an East Hampton Village Board member, thanked Jerry Larsen for his service to the village as he prepared to leave his post in January. Christopher Walsh

Jerry Larsen, the former East Hampton Village police chief who is currently running for a seat on the East Hampton Town Board, has filed a federal lawsuit against Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and Richard Lawler, a board member. Mr. Larsen claims they abused their positions and violated the village's ethics code by prohibiting him from taking outside security work in the village, while they ran businesses in direct competition. The prohibition reportedly cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars over an eight-year period.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in United District Court, Eastern District, alleges that the mayor and Mr. Lawler, who serves as the police commissioner, violated the village's code of ethics "in an effort to limit and stifle competition and to provide a competitive and financial advantage" for themselves.

The code applies to elected officials as well as those employed by the village.

Protec Security Services, owned by Mr. Larsen and his wife, Lisa M. Larsen, filed the suit. The company provides property management and security services as well as alarm and video system installations in residential and commercial buildings. It was widely known and reported that Mr. Larsen operated a side business.

According to the suit, it is "common practice" for police officers and retired police personnel to operate home management and security services in the area.

Mayor Rickenbach, the suit claims, worked for SCAN Security, which provides similar services to Protec, and provided private property management for residential properties for the last 20 years. The mayor is a retired East Hampton Village police officer. Of Mr. Lawler, it said he also has a private property management business, which offers watch-guard and security services. The suit alleges that the mayor and Mr. Lawler used village-owned vehicles while performing their watch-guard and property management services.

Mr. Larsen founded Protec Security in 2005 and began offering security installation and monitoring in 2008. After taking half a dozen accounts from SCAN Security in 2009, the suit said, the mayor and Mr. Lawler raised concerns and looked to enforce the village's ethics code, which has been in place since 2002. They allegedly directed Mr. Larsen to divest ownership in Protec.

The mayor and the village board ultimately required that the police chief no longer do business within the village, and prohibited the company from hiring any village employees or working with other businesses owned by village employees. Protec was also barred from performing drug and alcohol testing, another service it offered. Mr. Larsen agreed and divested his interest to his wife, though he remained an officer in the company so that it could maintain licenses that were in his name.

Protec's gross profits dropped 76 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the suit. The largest contract lost, providing around the clock security to a residence in the village, was valued at $300,000.

Mr. Larsen served as police chief from 2002 until Jan. 1, 2017, when he stepped down. He had been using up his unused vacation and sick time since then; his retirement became official on July 31.

"Elected officials should never take advantage of their position," Mr. Larsen said in a statement, "but in the Village of East Hampton, they have. That's why we have filed suit: to hold those in power accountable for their actions." Reached Thursday, he declined to comment further.

James Wicks, a partner at Farrell Fritz and the attorney for Protec and Mr. Larsen, said in a statement, "The purpose of ethics codes are to protect the public, not to be selectively applied or used by officials to stifle competition by taking away their competitor's clients. This lawsuit will end that abuse."

The suit does not indicate the amount in damages being sought. The case will be heard in Supreme Court in Central Islip.

Mayor Rickenbach did not return a request for comment. Mr. Lawler could not immediately be reached.