A legal fight between Putnam Valley’s building inspector and a town councilman could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Richard Quaglietta, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, sued Councilman Steve Mackay for slander earlier this year, though the case will never go to trial after an out of court settlement was reached. The settlement was made last month with Quaglietta receiving $17,500 as a result of the agreement. The town’s insurance company will cover at least $12,500 of the payment due to Quaglietta, while it is up in the air where the other $5,000 will come from.
Quaglietta sued Mackay last winter for slander after the Republican councilman allegedly made false statements against the town employee. Mackay allegedly told a group of people at The Quiet Man Restaurant in Peekskill during a party that Quaglietta was in big trouble because he illegally solicited $400 from a movie company and threatened to close down the filming if he wasn’t paid a bribe, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleged that Mackay knew his statements that Quaglietta takes bribes from people were false and were made with malice in hopes of damaging the reputation of Quaglietta.
“(Quaglietta) has been greatly injured in his good name and reputation and has been deprived of the public confidence which he had as a (building inspector and code enforcement officer),” part of the lawsuit stated. “He has suffered a tremendous amount of embarrassment, humiliation and mental agony and has been held in contempt, distrust and ridicule in the eyes of his friends, business acquaintances and the public in general.”
Quaglietta, a Kent resident, said he only found out about Mackay’s alleged accusations when planning board member Tom Carano asked Quaglietta if he was having money problems and that Mackay told people he was taking bribes.
Quaglietta, who has been the Putnam Valley building inspector for six years, said he has never taken money under the table and was upset to learn what Mackay allegedly relayed to others.
“My name is everything to me as a building inspector,” Quaglietta said, noting he won’t even let people in town buy him a cup of coffee because he doesn’t want the perception of impropriety.
Quaglietta’s attorney, George Calcagnini, said the settlement didn’t include any admission of wrongdoing from Mackay. Calcagnini said in a deposition Mackay denied making the statements against Quaglietta, but Carano, in his deposition, explained in great detail the defamatory statements made.
Quaglietta confirmed the insurance company paid him the full $17,500, but that doesn’t mean the town won’t get an invoice for $5,000 in the future.
One of three things could now happen: the town might never receive a bill from the insurance company which might decide to cover it, the town could be billed and Mackay would pay for it out of his own pocket or the town would foot the bill.
Because Mackay agreed to a settlement, Quaglietta said he feels vindicated.
“If you’re settling and paying a price, you’re saying that you’re guilty or wouldn’t have settled, especially when you’re not paying your own attorney fees,” Quaglietta said.
When the lawsuit was first filed, Calcagnini called James Randazzo, Mackay’s attorney, and told him Quaglietta was willing to settle for $5,000 and a public apology from Mackay, but that offer was rejected.
Supervisor Sam Oliverio confirmed the town’s insurance company covered Mackay’s legal costs and a $12,500 payment to Quaglietta. Oliverio said he and the rest of the town board were unaware that town insurance covered Mackay’s legal costs and Oliverio only found out about the lawsuit once the case reached its conclusion.
“I have no answer and no explanation for how insurance company handled it,” Oliverio said. “All I know is that they did.”
While the insurance company doled out funds for Mackay’s legal representation and covered part of the settlement, the town won’t be charged an additional fee from the company going forward, Oliverio said.
Emails to Mackay were not returned before press time and numerous calls to Randazzo were also not returned before press time.
Councilwoman Jackie Annabi said the town board was unaware of any lawsuit filed against Mackay and only found out about it because the town could be charged a $5,000 deductible stemming from the settlement payout.
The town has not received an invoice yet, but if it does the matter would need to be discussed publicly. The town board would need to vote on the matter if it were considering paying the $5,000 deductible.
“This is a circumstance that did not involve the town so I see no liability on the town’s part,” Oliverio said.