Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel confirmed this week that the Saugerties town ethics board is investigating allegations that a town department head pressured employees to participate in a 2015 Republican caucus in order to swing the party nomination to Helsmoortel.
The ethics investigation is based on a letter purportedly written by former Saugerties Parks and Recreation Department employee Brett Baschnagel and obtained by town Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp. Baschnagel could not be reached by phone or text at a number listed on the letter. But Heidcamp, Saugerties Republican Committee Chairman Joe Roberti and Helsmoortel all acknowledged that they had seen the letter and that it had been forwarded to the ethics board.
In the letter, dated Dec. 6, 2016, Baschnagel describes a staff meeting called by Parks and Recreation Superintendent Greg Chorvas during working hours on Aug. 6, 2015. Those called to the meeting included only Parks and Recreation staffers who were registered Republicans.
At the meeting, Chorvas allegedly pressured workers to attend the GOP caucus scheduled for that night and to cast their votes for Helsmoortel and town board candidates Leeanne Thornton and Fred Costello Jr. All three candidates were seeking cross-endorsements from the town’s Democratic and Republican committees.
According to Baschnagel’s letter, Chorvas told employees that it was “important to the future of our department that Greg Helsmoortel be town supervisor and Fred Costello and Leeanne Thornton be re-elected to the town board.” Baschnagel’s letter also claims that Chorvas warned that the department would face cutbacks if Roberti or Conservative Party candidate Gaetana Ciarlante took the supervisor’s office. Helsmoortel prevailed at the GOP Caucus beating out Ciarlante for the Republican nomination and eventually for the town supervisor job. Costello also received the Republican line. “He said that Joe Roberti and Gaetana Ciarlante are not supporters of our department and would do everything possible to cut us back in many ways,” wrote Baschnagel.
Heidcamp said he had spoken to Baschnagel, who told him that he had in fact attended the caucus and, under pressure from Chorvas, remained until the voting was complete. Heidcamp said that Baschnagel told him he had reported the incident to Councilman James Bruno two months before he wrote the letter.
If Baschnagel’s allegations are true, Chorvas’ act could constitute a breach of a section of the town’s ethics code that reads, “A town officer or employee shall not request or authorize anyone else to request any subordinate of the officer or employee to participate in an election campaign or contribute to a political committee.”
“If these allegations are true and he was trying to intimidate his people to vote a certain way, I have an issue with that,” said Heidcamp. “Because that could have had an impact [on Conservative candidate Ciarlante.]”
Roberti said that he had heard rumors of the alleged misconduct ever since the caucus, but Baschnagel was the first to come forward with detailed allegations.
“If these allegations are true it’s very troubling that a town employee would advocate for his chosen candidates during work hours and on town property,” said Roberti.
Helsmoortel, meanwhile, said that he had heard of the allegations prior to Baschnagel’s letter, but he declined to discuss specifics of the case pending the ethics board’s review.
“This is going to be handled properly and professionally through our attorney and the ethics committee,” Helsmoortel said.
Chorvas was out of his office this week and unreachable for comment.