While details of the agreement remain sketchy, the Island Park village board voted on Aug. 15 to agree to a settlement in United States v. the Incorporated Village of Island Park, a suit that was brought 23 years ago but has been moving exceedingly slowly through the federal court system since then.
The 1990 lawsuit was filed by a Hispanic resident who charged that he was rejected for a federally subsidized home in the village because of discrimination. More than 40 houses had been built there as part of a Department of Housing and Urban Development program designed to bring affordable housing to minorities in areas where no such housing existed.
The plaintiff, Richard Rodriguez, filed the suit after The New York Times reported in June 1989 that a HUD audit, conducted five years earlier, had accused Island Park officials of rigging the selection to favor politically connected villagers and to keep minorities out.
Among those selected for the homes, according to the HUD report, were a cousin of former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and several Island Park insiders, including the son of Geraldine McGann, a high-ranking HUD official. Island Park is the hometown of both D’Amato and McGann.
Rodriguez, who at the time was a 35-year-old airline worker, argued in his suit that he had tried many times to apply for one of 44 houses subsidized by the federal program in the early 1980s. But village officials, he said, repeatedly rejected his applications.
In 1995, the federal judge hearing the case ruled that Island Park had violated the federal Fair Housing Act and False Claims Act. He appointed Magistrate Steven Gold to recommend the penalties and remedies to be imposed.
Two years later, Gold recommended that Island Park pay a $5.4 million fine and develop a plan to actively recruit minorities to move there. Prosecutors in the case also recommended that the village redo a lottery for the original 44 homes and build another 44 that would be sold only to minorities.