Guazzoni continues to pollute our community with lies

| 11 Jul 2023 | 11:09

    Note: This letter from attorney Sean Madden responds to an earlier edition of the story “Lawsuits pile up as Tuxedo Park awaits election decision,” in which Claudio Guazzoni de Zanett accused Mayor McFadden of ginning up a 2015 lawsuit then funneling money to his lawyer-friend. Madden says the reference is to himself and wrote the following in response:

    I am writing to respectfully request a correction to the demonstrably false and defamatory accusation by disgraced former Tuxedo Park trustee Claudio Guazzoni that you published in the penultimate paragraph of the “Fast Facts” portion of your article. The specific false and defamatory statement is: “Guazzoni accused McFadden of getting residents to sue and then funneling the payout to his lawyer friend, who was representing the plaintiffs.” (In context, it’s clear I am the supposed “lawyer friend.”) Below I will detail the specific false and misleading elements of this sentence, but it’s clear upshot is that Mayor McFadden ginned up a bunch of residents to sue the village so that I could represent them and enrich myself with settlement proceeds he would “funnel” to me. This is just another brazen lie by Guazzoni, who has been gaslighting our community for years.

    Before getting into the details, I want to express my gratitude to you, The Photo News and Straus News for the important service you provide with hyper-local coverage of news and events important to our local communities. I also understand that this critical function is vastly under-resourced relative to the need and the value provided. Accordingly, I have tried to provide as much detail and source documentation as possible to facilitate your independent diligence of my request for a correction and the facts that underlie it. I also believe that the information herein provides additional context regarding the ongoing election litigation brought by Guazzoni that should raise serious questions about his motives, veracity and character.

    Background to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) action

    My wife and I have lived in Tuxedo Park since 2005, but my first foray into local politics came in 2017 after I experienced firsthand the divisive and incompetent leadership of then-trustee and deputy mayor Guazzoni, who was bounced from office in 2017 after one disastrous term. I discovered and documented troubling governance abuses perpetrated by the former mayor and Guazzoni, including serial violations of New York’s Open Meetings Law as confirmed by an advisory opinion issued by the independent Committee on Open Government. I will spare you the gory details (which are available upon request), but suffice to say that I was determined to oppose Guazzoni’s reelection effort and to communicate my concerns about him (and the former mayor) with the community. (Longtime residents will recall the tumult in village governance during this period.)

    Long before the June 2017 village election, I filed a FOIL request for all the resident email addresses in the village’s records, including those that trustees used to communicate official business with the community. It is important to note that, at the time, the village permitted village trustees to use personal email servers to conduct official business. This practice — which Mayor McFadden terminated in favor of public, “.gov” emails for the conduct of village business —left the village vulnerable to unscrupulous officials like Guazzoni who refused to share their official village records, including email records, with the village records access officer, as required by New York law.

    Sure enough, Guazzoni was almost wholly uncooperative despite repeated requests and demands from the village records access officer and village attorney. I ultimately filed an Article 78 proceeding under FOIL to compel Guazzoni’s production of village records in his exclusive possession and control and to vindicate the public interest. I contemporaneously offered to settle the litigation and explained my desire to vindicate the public interest in an open letter to the community on June 12, 2017 (also available upon request).

    All of the essential facts and procedural details of my FOIL action are publicly available, but the bottom line is that the Orange County Supreme Court found that the village had violated FOIL because of former trustee Guazzoni’s obstruction (and through no fault of village officials trying to comply with the law but who did not have access to Guazzoni’s emails). This decision was filed August 31, 2022 (follow this link).

    Through the course of these events, Guazzoni lied repeatedly to the village records access officer; lied repeatedly to the village attorney, and ultimately lied to the court in a filing made under penalty of perjury. (This is the same court and same judge hearing Guazzoni’s current election litigation.) Guazzoni thereby violated his oath of office and several provisions of New York law and also committed perjury. To this day, he has never produced the email distribution list that was the subject of his perjurious affidavit and that the court ordered him to produce.

    From the beginning, I have urged the village to settle my FOIL litigation and stop wasting taxpayer resources defending the indefensible. Unfortunately, I believe the village received deeply flawed advice from the village attorney — whom I have long believed should be replaced — and didn’t seriously engage in settlement discussions until after the court’s decision. I have attached hereto a letter dated October 17, 2022 (follow this link), to the village board in advance of settlement discussions, which details Guazzoni’s violations of FOIL and his perjurious affidavit — which was filed by the village attorney and paid for with taxpayers’ money.

    I ultimately negotiated a settlement with the village that was unanimously adopted by the board of trustees on December 21, 2022. I have attached hereto a copy of the minutes of the village board (follow this link) of such date which reflect approval of the settlement agreement (a copy of which is attached to such minutes). At the same meeting, pursuant to the settlement agreement, the village board unanimously adopted the following resolution of censure:

    “The Village of Tuxedo Park Board of Trustees hereby censures the conduct of former trustee Claudio Guazzoni as an elected Village Trustee in 2017 that led to the Village’s violations of New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), as recently determined by a state court. In addition, former Trustee Guazoni, in such capacity, failed to turn over all Village records in his possession related to his duties as a Village Trustee. By not providing the level of cooperation and candor required of him as a Village official under New York law, former Trustee Guazzoni caused the Village to be unable to comply with FOIL requirements which resulted in an adverse court decision against the Village. Consequently, Village taxpayers incurred significant costs in this matter. The Board of Trustees hereby calls on former Trustee Guazzoni to recognize the impact of his actions and requests that he makes a significant donation to the Village for the purposes of beautification efforts undertaken by the Board of Trustees.”

    False and defamatory allegation

    Guazzoni falsely and maliciously suggested that Mayor McFadden ginned up a bunch of residents to sue the village so that I could represent them and enrich myself with settlement proceeds he would “funnel” to me in a settlement. This suggestion, and the specific allegations, are categorically and demonstrably false.

    Clause 1 is false because (a) McFadden had absolutely nothing to do with my Article 78 FOIL action (in fact, as a village trustee, he was subject to my FOIL requests, with which he complied), and (b) I was the sole petitioner, and there were no other residents involved in the action, which is obvious from the caption of my FOIL action.

    Clause 2 is false insofar as I was the petitioner, not an attorney of record, in the FOIL action so I did not represent anyone (including myself), as Guazzoni is obviously aware as he was both a party to and the focus of my FOIL action. Clause 2 is also willfully misleading in suggesting that I was somehow unjustly enriched by the FOIL action. In fact, I am $60,000 poorer as a result of my FOIL action despite the village’s reimbursement of my actual, out-of-pocket legal fees.

    Although I am trained as a lawyer, I have not practiced law in decades, and I have “retired” status with the State Bar Association, which precludes me from representing clients for remuneration. Nevertheless, I could have appeared in my FOIL action as co-counsel pro se and have been reimbursed for the hundreds of hours I spent on it, but I chose not to. Instead, I was represented throughout solely by Richard Ellsworth, Esq. of Suffern. FOIL provides for prevailing petitioners to receive reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses, with oversight and approval from the court.

    Attached hereto (follow this link) is Mr. Ellsworth’s affirmation for fees documenting the approximately $105,000 of out-of-pocket fees and expenses that I personally funded from 2017 through successful conclusion in 2022. Because reimbursement of legal fees are fully taxable as income (even though they clearly are not income in the ordinary sense of the word), together with the fact that I donated one-third of such reimbursement back to the village for unbudgeted beautification projects, my FOIL action cost me over $60,000. Nevertheless, I am gratified to have vindicated the public interest by holding former trustee Guazzoni accountable for his official misconduct.

    Virtually all of the facts I have detailed above are in the public domain and are known to Guazzoni, but he chooses to ignore facts that are inconvenient to him and instead continues to pollute our community with outright lies.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Sean P. Madden