More than a year and a half after a series of hearings to determine the fate of the Capri Lynbrook Motor Inn, Mayor Alan Beach and the board of trustees unanimously voted on Nov. 19 to revoke the owners’ room-rental license.
The decision came after many years of controversy at the Capri, including multiple drug overdose deaths and several arrests of guests for assault, prostitution and drug possession. The room-rental license revocation will take effect Dec. 21, and the Capri’s seven owners — who have varying stakes in the motel — will have 30 days to appeal the decision before the Lynbrook Zoning Board.
A panel comprising Beach, Deputy Mayor Hilary Becker and Ann Marie Reardon heard testimony from Lynbrook police officers, a hotel expert and motel managers during five hearings at Village Hall in March and April 2017.
“We find that there is a sound basis for revocation of the room-rental license, which the village issued to the Capri motel,” Beach said. “We therefore adopt the determination of the panel as our own, and we now revoke the room-rental license issued for the Capri.”
Reached by phone on Monday, the motel’s manager, Joe Pizzuto, told a Herald reporter that he was unaware of the decision and that he had to call his lawyer. When asked whether management planned to appeal, he hung up.
During the 2017 hearings, Pizzuto denied the claims village officials made against the motel, which is at 5 Freer St. “There’s no prostitution there,” he said. “There’s nothing going on.”
After years of trouble at the establishment, then-Mayor William Hendrick announced in September 2016 that he planned to take steps to pull the owners’ license. According to village code, the mayor must appoint three trustees to hold a license-revocation hearing. Hendrick, who died in October 2017, named Beach, who was deputy mayor at the time, and Trustees Becker — the current deputy mayor — and Reardon to serve on the panel.
Representing the Capri, attorneys Jonathan Edelstein and Benedict Gullo accused the panel of bias because its members had worked closely with Hendrick and knew that he wanted the license revoked.
“I would submit that this would cause a reasonable observer to doubt whether this hearing is fair and impartial,” Edelstein argued, “that the appointment process of this panel is tainted, and that I would object to any further hearings before this panel.”
In June 2017, then-Village Attorney Peter Ledwith said it would take many months for the panel to come to a decision because it was awaiting transcripts of the hearing testimony. He also refuted the defense’s argument that the panel could not be impartial.
“They’re all very independent-minded persons, believe me,” Ledwith said at the time. “You just don’t know what the panel would do, but these are not people who just go along.”
Ledwith retired in April, and his son-in-law and law partner Tom Atkinson took over as village attorney. Ledwith has remained on the case. After Hendrick died suddenly of a heart attack and Beach became mayor, the board said little about the Capri hearings until its Nov. 19 meeting.
At that session, Atkinson said that after receiving transcripts from the hearings, the panel members signed and submitted a 51-page document discussing the findings. The board of trustees, which comprises the three panel members and Trustees Mike Hawxhurst and Robert Boccio, voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, which was met with a round of applause from residents in attendance.
Police have regularly patrolled the Capri over the years, and there have been four drug overdose deaths there, including two in 2015 and one in 2016. The latest came on May 3, 2018, when Lynbrook police responded to a call that a Lynbrook resident had overdosed in one of the motel’s rooms and discovered her body.
Pizzuto said at the time that the overdose had nothing to do with management.
“It was a simple overdose,” he said. “That’s exactly what it was. There’s nothing suspicious about it or anything.”
The Capri owners will have 30 days to appeal. If the board upholds the panel’s decision, Atkinson said, the owners then could appeal in Supreme Court in Mineola.