BusinessHealthThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Big Dollars, High Stakes Embroil Cortlandt Rehab Center Proposal

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By Jim Roberts

A six-year battle over a proposed 92-bed luxury drug and alcohol rehab specialty hospital on 20 acres in Cortlandt pits a neighborhood of owners of million-dollar homes against an undisclosed group of investors headed by a mysterious millionaire businessman.

The plan to rehabilitate the former Hudson Institute site on Quaker Ridge Road overlooking the Hudson River has raised the ire of deep-pocketed opponents who so far have stopped the project.

The investor group is headed by a controversial businessman who served three separate terms in federal prison. Among the high-profile neighbors opposing the proposal is Tom Secunda, a co-founder of Bloomberg LP, whose net worth is calculated at $3.5 billion by Forbes.

First presenting the project to Cortlandt officials in 2015, the backers of Hudson Ridge Wellness Center have spent nearly $3 million to buy three parcels of land, paid attorneys and consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars, carried property taxes costing nearly $400,000 and renovated the existing buildings on the site to the tune of $1.5 million.

Hudson Wellness Center
The plan to rehabilitate the former Hudson Institute site in Cortlandt has raised the ire of deep-pocketed opponents who have stopped the project.

Concerns of Neighbors

While expressing support for rehabilitation services in general, neighborhood opposition has centered on disruptions to the area with increased traffic and potential depletion of well water. The group has also questioned the background of the developer and their ability to operate the rehab facility.

“There are so many serious environmental issues – water, noise, light, traffic and more – it is impossible to deny that inserting a commercial facility into an area known for hiking trails and acting as the ‘lungs’ of Westchester County will cause environmental harm,” said Karen Wells, a leader of the neighborhood opponents. “Our experts have found that the project plans are simply unfeasible due to the limited amount of building space available.”

 According to Wells, more than 100 community members have been involved in the neighborhood opposition group Citizens for Responsible Hudson Institute Site Development in different capacities, dating back several years when the group was formed around Jill Greenstein’s kitchen table. They’ve raised funds through wine tastings, auctions, private donations and bake sales.

 “We’ve been stonewalled every step of the way by a development team that doesn’t have any experience running this type of facility, is refusing to share any information about their plans and is instead hiding behind lawyers and other hired consultants,” Wells said.

Wells and her husband, Andrew Canning, sold their professional services firm WellsCanning to Towers Watson in 2011 for an undisclosed sum. The firm, founded in 1995, was a registered investment adviser providing investment consulting to a diverse client base of life, health and property and casualty clients ranging from $50 million to $7 billion in assets, located in the U.S. and offshore.

Secunda, the Bloomberg co-founder who has an estate on the Hudson near the proposed rehab center, has been opposed to the project from the beginning.

“We are concerned citizens who are engaged in our community and in this process,” Secunda said in a statement read at an October 2016 Zoning Board meeting. “We raised our families here. We understand the process of which we are now a part of, and we intend to make our voices heard. To that end, the Hudson Wellness application must be rejected by this board or any other board in Cortlandt which may have authority to evaluate it.”

Opponents early on won the support of Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi. In a July 2015 e-mail, Puglisi wrote “This application is unfortunate. I will do everything I can to not only mitigate it but to fight it, as well.”

Town Attorney Tom Wood said the Town Board usually doesn’t intercede in these matters. Puglisi’s comment referred to the question of whether the Zoning Board of Appeals can grant a variance in this case, Wood said. The town believes the ZBA can’t, but a court has ruled differently, he said.

The project’s well-funded opponents recently hired the prominent Democratic-associated public relations and lobbying firm SDK Knickerbocker to send out press releases against the proposal. They’ve also taken out online ads in local publications.

If the luxury rehabilitation center is approved by the town, it must then be licensed and regulated by the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS).

The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank that was created in the early 1960s, left the site and moved to Indiana in 1984. The property was abandoned for many years, the buildings were damaged by trespassers and the site became a haven for illegal parties and hunters, according to an attorney for the developer.

The property is near Teatown, a 1,000-acre nonprofit nature preserve and environmental education center with 15 miles of hiking trails and a two-acre island refuge.

 Delays in the Courts

The developer needs a special permit to build a specialty hospital in a two-acre residential zone. A variance from a town law that requires that a hospital be located on a state road is also required.

Lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court during the six-year battle. Years of public hearings and court actions involving the developer, the town and the neighborhood opposition group, the nonprofit Citizens for Responsible Hudson Institute Site Development, have delayed any votes on the application up to now.

 Last September, the state Supreme Court overruled the Cortlandt ZBA’s decision that Hudson Ridge Wellness Center is not a hospital, which allowed the applicant to go back to the Planning Board for their determination on the environmental assessment of the project.

 At its February 2021 meeting, the Planning Board voted to commence the public hearing on Mar. 2. The ongoing hearings before the Planning Board that have occurred since then could come to an end at a special hearing of the board now scheduled for this Thursday evening at the Muriel Morabito Community Center on Westbrook Drive. A final vote by the Planning Board is possible in October.

The property can be developed as of right with 10 single-family houses in the two-acre zone, depending on what the topography allows.

Developer in the Shadows

A principal behind Hudson Ridge Wellness is Kevin Cassidy, whose record of criminal convictions dating back to 1987.

Cassidy-involved entities have purchased three parcels of land in the area. The 20-acre site in Croton-on-Hudson was bought by L&G Capital LLC in Newburgh, N.Y. in 2010 from the Maharishi Global Development Fund for $1.15 million and transferred to Hudson Ridge Wellness two years later.

An adjacent empty 28-acre parcel bordering the site in New Castle was bought by Cassidy-related 35 Quaker Ridge LLC for $850,000 in 2014. A home at the west end of the former Hudson Institute property was purchased by Quaker Hill Drive LLC in 2017 for $817,000. A 30-foot easement was granted by the Cassidy-affiliated owner of the 81 Quaker Ridge property to allow another entrance into the Hudson Institute parcel. That house was sold for $999,999 in the past month to an unrelated third party and the easement was removed.

A petition on says more than 7,500 people have signed their support for the proposed wellness center. The Hudson Ridge Wellness Center website displays sponsorship of Little League and soccer teams in Cortlandt and donations to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in New York City.

On his LinkedIn page, Cassidy describes himself as the caretaker/manager of H.R. Wellness Center from January 2011 to the present.

“In the future, we hope to create awareness of the need for caring treatment for individuals struggling with alcoholism and addiction. Future Development of Treatment center based on family values of support for the person and their battle with addiction. Caretaker, managing project development. Working to help people through my own life experience,” his LinkedIn page states.

 In 2012, Hudson Ridge hired Dan Brown Consulting, a firm with 30 years’ experience in the field of behavioral health organizations, to work with them on an original feasibility analysis. The consulting firm also developed draft policies, clinical forms, client records, plans for health and safety and security, corporate compliance, performance improvement and treatment program model.

 In a federal sentencing memorandum filed in April 2012, prosecutors wrote “[Cassidy] can also use his time in prison to develop plans in furtherance of his purported goal of establishing a substance abuse treatment center.”

Cassidy is associated with a 10-bed rehab facility in Edgewood, Fla. called Serenity Springs Recovery Center. Two other office locations connected to Serenity Springs are in West Hempstead, N.Y. and San Diego.

On its website, the Florida-based Serenity Springs says “Our program focuses on healing the broken spirit and is one of the best male rehabilitation centers in Florida and the U.S.”

 “Since opening in 2011, Serenity Springs Recovery Center has made a name as central Florida’s premier men’s inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center,” the website states. The facility has been accredited by The Joint Commission (formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) since 2018.

 One treatment that Serenity Springs promotes is NeuroRecover, an amino acid therapy administered as a daily intravenous solution for eight hours a day, said Dr. John Humiston, a proponent of the treatment.

 Criminal and Business Past

In 1987, Cassidy was sentenced to probation for one year and paid restitution on federal wire fraud charges in Massachusetts. In 1993 he was convicted of federal tax evasion in New York and sentenced to six months in prison, followed by three years’ probation, according to court documents.

The same year, Cassidy was also charged with credit card fraud and money laundering in Florida. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts in 1996 and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. He was released in 1999.

In August 2011, Cassidy pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to defraud the Bank of Montreal. Prosecutors said Cassidy used his brokerage company, Optionable, in 2006 to conspire with an options trader at the bank to defraud the bank of millions of dollars by intentionally mismarking the value of option trades. Cassidy was released from federal prison in December 2014.

Cassidy was the CEO of Optionable and a director, according to a 2006 SEC filing. Mark Nordlicht was the chairman of the board of the company.

Nordlicht was one of the partners of Platinum Partners, the billion-dollar hedge fund that went bankrupt in 2016 as investors made a run on the firm following the arrest of another partner for bribing a New York City union official.

The court-appointed receiver charged with recovering funds for Platinum investors sued Cassidy in civil court to recover more than $13 million alleged to have been conveyed to Cassidy illegally through a Platinum affiliate, Agera Energy.

“Cassidy substantially assisted and participated in the Platinum Defendants’ breaches of their fiduciary obligations of the Agera Transactions by…receiving $13,552,000 in cash and interests…from the corrupt Agera Transactions by way of his entity, Starfish,” according to court papers.

The action against Cassidy was dismissed in January 2020 by consent of both parties, typically done when an agreement is reached to return some or all of the money to the receiver.

Nordlicht and several principals in Platinum Partners went to trial in 2019 on federal charges. Nordlicht was acquitted on three of the counts but convicted on two others. The federal judge in the jury trial vacated one of those convictions and ordered a new trial on another count.

A representative for Cassidy who attended the July 6 Cortlandt Planning Board meeting contacted a reporter the following day. The representative did not respond to a subsequent e-mail and phone call for comment.

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