Bellmore attorney Jeff Gold is asking a federal judge to award almost $250 million in damages to families of special-needs students who say their personal information was mined by Town of Hempstead employees in an attempt to re-elect Republican Supervisor Anthony Santino, who lost his re-election bid in November to Rockville Centre attorney Laura Gillen.
The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 13, names Santino; his legal counsel, William Muller; Muller’s wife, Diana Bianculli-Muller, the deputy town clerk; Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad; Parks and Recreation Director Michael Zappolo; and Citizens for Santino as defendants.
During the 2017 election, according to Gold, all or some of the defendants “hatched a plan to curry the vote of Town of Hempstead families who had a member attending Camp Anchor,” a town-operated program serving children and adults with special needs.
Muller allegedly accessed the identities of Camp Anchor attendees and sent letters to their families in the days before the election.
According to the suit, nearly 1,200 Camp Anchor attendees’ records were accessed in order to target the mailer, which encouraged the families to vote for Santino.
“We are asking you to please join us in voting for the re-election of Anthony Santino for Town Supervisor because we personally know how he feels about the Anchor program and the important service it provides to our township’s special needs community,” the letter read.
In the suit, Gold, who ran unsuccessfully this year on the Democratic ticket for the County Legislature’s 19th District seat, wrote that Muller’s use of the families’ personal information was an invasion of privacy against a group of people who “could be expected to feel beholden to Santino, as they are dependent upon the good will of the Town of Hempstead administration for the continuation of Camp Anchor.”
“The families are very upset — we hear from them more each week,” Gold said on Tuesday. “You wouldn’t want your personal info out there, even if you weren’t suffering from a developmental disability.”
Gold said that the mailing was done at the urging of Santino, and that Muller was likely trying to “curry favor” with Santino and re-elect him because both Muller and his wife faced the possibility of losing their jobs if Santino lost the election.
The Camp Anchor letter and prior official Town of Hempstead mailings promoting Santino are “reflective of the fact that Mr. Santino and his associates believe that they are above the law and can do what they want in order to continue financing their existence on the public dole,” Gold said.
On Nov. 28, Gold requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction barring Muller and the town from further releasing the families’ information, as well as an order keeping Muller and the other defendants from destroying files or deleting emails. According to Gold, Muller and the defendants refused to voluntarily agree to the restrictions.
Angelo Bisceglie, whose firm is representing the town, said in a Nov. 29 reply that the TRO and injunction would be “premature and unnecessary,” alleging that Gold did not make a good-faith effort to resolve the issue before making the request in federal court. A court conference to negotiate the order will be scheduled for Dec. 12 or 13.
Mike Deery, a Town of Hempstead spokesman, acknowledged in a Nov. 6 statement that Muller had acquired a list of campers and families, but said that he did so “in his capacity as a private individual, in response to a properly executed Freedom of Information Law request.”
Bisceglie has yet to file his response to the complaint.
Gold is asking for $205,500 in damages for each person whose information was used, a total of $246.6 million.