The Manorhaven Board of Ethics has found that John Popeleski, a trustee and mayoral candidate, violated the village code and must pay a $5,000 fine.
Popeleski used his position to move and vote for the approval of a tree removal application that would benefit a property owner, Peter Dejana, according to village documents.
The property owner, the documents said, was at the same time providing Popeleski with rent-free parking spaces for two automobiles.
“When subsequently questioned by village counsel, he falsely stated that he was paying rent for the parking spaces,” the records state. “Trustee Popeleski’s conduct could only lead a member of the public to lose confidence in the village government.”
Popeleski said in a statement to Blank Slate Media that Manorhaven’s current mayor, Jim Avena, and Gerard Terry, the former North Hempstead Democratic Party leader, have been on a mission to get him out of the race since he announced his candidacy.
For the past six years, Popeleski has served as a trustee. In the election for a two-year term as mayor, he is facing Avena on June 21.
“What I thought was a generous offer from Jim Avena to park in his brother-in-law’s garage turned out to be part of an intricate scheme,” said Popeliski. “Avena’s Ethics Board is a prejudicial board of friends who he appointed when he was elected mayor.”
Popeleski said the Ethics Board decision was an attempt by Avena to discredit his candidacy and deceive the public.
“I know Manorhaven residents are smarter than this and will make the right choice on June 21 to end the corruption and misuse of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I refuse to be railroaded and will dedicate myself to winning this race for the good of all Manorhaven residents.”
Avena said that when the Ethics Board was formed in 2016, each trustee nominated a candidate. Popeleski, who was a trustee, nominated his partner, Bill McCarthy, who is a member today.
Avena said he has a connection to Terry, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 on tax evasion charges, dating back to his early days in politics. However, he stressed that his current mayoral job or candidacy prospects have no bearing on him.
“Gerard Terry is not in any way, shape or form involved with me, regarding me being mayor as well as me being a candidate now,” he said.
In a statement given to Blank Slate Media, Terry criticized Popeleski’s comments.
“His comments regarding me are hardly worth dignifying but, for the record, they are both false and malicious, as well as woefully misinformed and just plain dumb,” he said. “I would only add that when a candidate brings my name back from the grave after so many years, that strikes me as weird and somewhat creepy. But that’s Manorhaven for you.”
Popeleski claimed in his response that the Ethics Board dismissed the court stenographer during its deliberations so there would be no public record. Despite this claim, Blank Slate Media received the transcript of the ethics hearing.
“Jim Avena failed to mention that he lives in a Dejana home rent-free, is still on the Dejana payroll and the trees in question were unanimously accepted by the village board,” he said. “Anyone who interferes with Avena’s agenda is eliminated. This included our very capable building superintendent who put a stop-work order on a Dejana project and was fired.”
Popeleski said the employee received a sizable award in damages from tax dollars after being wrongfully terminated by the mayor, and that he has now returned to work, before adding, “Look who is calling the kettle black.”
“[He] was fired because he wrote in an email after a zoning board meeting, referring to the movie ‘Once Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ where he said, ‘Alice, this game is rigged,’ and the intimation there was a zoning board was on the take,” Avena said. “So after consulting with our attorneys, I felt that was you know, you can’t be doing that.”
Avena said he was concerned that the statement would prompt builders in the area who had been turned down to reconsider their applications or sue the village.
In terms of the employee’s return, Avena said Popeleski used the Board of Trustees against him to pass a resolution bringing the employee back.
“He made a resolution, out of turn, completely not presented as part of the agenda and put a resolution to bring [him] back,” he said. “That deal was settled by him doing that without discussion by the board in an executive session. Personnel matters should be discussed in an executive session.”
When asked about his connection to the Dejana family, Avena, who is Peter Dejana’s brother-in-law, stated he has never hidden it. He also denies living rent-free in a Dejana home.
“I was, for the Peter and Jeri Dejana Foundation, a grant administrator for a number of years,” he said. “That was disclosed all along.”
The Dejana Foundation paid Avena $303,000 for “consulting” from 2018 to 2020, according to public records.
The Board of Ethics held its hearing on May 12. They examined whether Popeleski had violated Code of Ethics Sections 7-4 (Use of Village position for personal or private gain), 7-17 (Gifts, tips, and other benefits) and 7-19 (Particular matter disclosure).
“On Sept. 5, 2019, Popeleski as tenant, entered into a written lease with Sagamore Hill Dr 30, LLC as landlord, to store two classic cars at a garage located at 30 Sagamore Hill Drive,” according to the documents. “The lease provided for the payment of no rent or security.”
Popeleski moved and voted in favor of a resolution granting Sagamore Hill Dr 30, LLC’s application for a permit to remove six Sycamore trees at a work session of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 11, 2021.
During this, he did not recuse himself or disclose that he was in an agreement that gave him two rent-free parking places on the premises.
“For purposes of this section, a ‘gift, tip or other benefit’ includes ‘anything of value, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form,'” the village document reads. “Trustee Popeleski’s description of the trees suggested that their removal would improve the value of the premises and thus confer a financial benefit on its owner.”
Popeleski was punished by the Ethics Board because of the revelations made during the hearing.
“Based on the evidence presented, the Board of Ethics hereby assesses a civil fine, payable forthwith to the village in the amount of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00),” the document adds. “The foregoing constitutes the decision of the Board of Ethics.”
Avena said Popeleski’s criticism is a last-ditch attempt to win the election.
“The ethics charges are in black and white,” Avena said. “If you want to read the entire testimony, you can read it page by page.”