Former police officer files civil lawsuit

Town, village, mayor, police chiefs, named

“The Village of Highland Falls has heard for years about the corruptions of its local politicians. What has not been brought forward is the substantial damage the residents have suffered as homeowners and businesses in the Village and Town of Highlands.”

That’s a quote (Section 108, page 37) from a lawsuit served to the Village of Highland Falls, and presumably soon the Town of Highlands, this past week.

The Town of Highlands, Village of Highland Falls, Joseph D’Onofrio (individually and as mayor of the Village of Highland Falls), Kenneth Scott (individually and as chief of police), James DiSalvo (individually and as deputy mayor of the Village of Highland Falls), and Frank Pierri (individually and as chief of police of Town of Highlands) have all been named in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a former THPD and HFPD officer.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York by Joseph Cornetta. Cornetta is represented by the law firm of White, Hilferty & Albanese, specifically J. Christopher Albanese, in New York City. A call for comment to Albanese went unreturned.

Cornetta, according to the lawsuit, began working as a police officer in the community in 2014 and continued until his termination by the village in November 2017 and by the town in January 2018. While working in the community he was, at one point, the head of a ‘Special Investigations Unit’ “targeting the distribution of illegal substances”. He claims in the suit that his investigation “upset certain individuals who held official positions” (the defendants) and they retaliated against him.

Cornetta alleges that he was “unlawfully discriminated against” and “subjected to a hostile work environment” on the “basis of his disability”.

“Plaintiff diligently performed his job duties for defendants throughout his employment, only to be subjected to targeted disability discrimination,” the suit reads. “Plaintiff now requests this court enforce his civil rights protected by federal, state and local law.”

In addition, the court documents detailed claims of “widespread criminal enterprise” and “racketeering activity” over the past 10 years by village officials — including bribery and kickbacks, obstruction of justice, obstruction of criminal investigations and obstruction of state and local law enforcement”, calling them RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) predicated acts.

The RICO Act is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

In the suit, which is 38 pages long, Cornetta alleges significant corruption in the community, going back decades. He says some defendants “have received significant monies from local businesses, residents and contractors in exchange for zoning approvals, construction contracts, parking passes, pressure on local law enforcement authorities and political support”.

In the suit, Cornetta asks for the following “relief”:

• a judgement that the actions, conduct and practices of the defendants violates the laws of the U.S. and State of New York;

• an injunction and order restraining them from engaging in such unlawful conduct;

• back pay and damages, including for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorneys fees and the cost of filing the suit.

Village Clerk Gina Taylor acknowledged receipt of the lawsuit on February 27, and said it had been sent on to the village’s insurance company. Village officials are covered under ‘public officials insurance’, and the case will be defended by an attorney of their insurance company. Town of Highlands Supervisor Bob Livsey said on Wednesday the town had not yet received any notification of the suit, but added that when they do, it will be submitted to the town’s insurance company and then they would “follow whatever course is set up by the courts”.

Online court documents show a notice of initial pretrial conference set for 3:15 p.m. on Friday, May 10 in Courtroom 906, 40 Centre St., New York, NY before Judge Allison J. Nathan. The complaint was initially filed on Thursday, Dec. 20.