East Hampton Village police arrested an East Hampton man last week on charges stemming from a barrage of anti-Obama graffiti in various locations.
Lawrence G. Nickel, 63, was charged on Sept. 18 with one felony count of criminal mischief, 12 misdemeanor vandalism counts, and one count of petty larceny. Chief Gerard Larsen said the felony charge, criminal mischief in the third degree, stemmed from the aggregate damage in the 12 misdemeanor incidents, which was estimated at $488. The threshold for such a charge is $250.
Written in indelible marker on the white walls and doors in public locations about the village and near the beach, the graffiti included “Obama is a lying P.O.S.” and racial epithets.
The graffiti campaign apparently started in May. Police said the department had been receiving 5 to 10 such vandalism reports a week. Investigating detectives found helpful allies in local businesses, it was reported, which turned surveillance tapes over to police. Images of the suspect were then distributed throughout the department.
On Sept. 16 at about 4:30 a.m., “Sergeant Richard Mamay spotted a man walking down Newtown Lane who fit the description,” the chief said on Tuesday. The sergeant engaged him in conversation, learning his name and where he lived. The detective squad made the arrest two days later, and the police contacted the Secret Service.
The chief noted that most of the attacks occurred during the high season, when the village was crowded, allowing Mr. Nickel to allegedly blend into the crowds, whereas the village streets on a Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. in September are deserted.
“We’re still conducting an investigation,” Michael Seremetis, resident agent in charge of the Long Island Secret Service Bureau, said on Monday. Mr. Seremetis would not comment on whether Mr. Nickel has been linked to any hate groups. He also said the bureau has a good working relationship with the village, due in part to recent visits by Mitt Romney and Joe Biden.
Mr. Nickel was arrested at a house in which he has been living on a quiet, cloistered road just off Main Street, within a couple of hundred yards of many of the targeted walls. Police allege that he would frequently re-attack the walls after they had been either been scrubbed clean or painted over. He tended to leave several graffiti messages in one night, police said.
The suspect was employed by a prominent local builder, Ben Krupinski, on a seasonal basis. Mr. Krupinski, who provided him with living accommodations, said he was shocked and disgusted when he learned of the incidents. Asked if Mr. Nickel was an employee, he answered, “Not any more.”
The petty larceny charge, also a misdemeanor, arises from an alleged incident at Two Mile Hollow Beach, when Mr. Nickel, the chief said, spotted two surveillance cameras the police had set up and removed them. “Our feeling is that they were destroyed,” Chief Larson said.
Mr. Nickel was released from police headquarters on $750 bail, and is due in East Hampton Town Justice Court for arraignment on Oct. 11.