Sandra Lee, celebrity chef and girlfriend to Governor Cuomo, failed to properly obtain building permits for renovations on a home the couple shares, allowing them to skirt a property assessment and possibly an increase in property taxes. A town inspector spent six months “chasing and threatening” Lee, trying to convince her to apply for a permit for the installation of a shed and gazebo estimated at $11,000.
Via the Journal News:
Lee enjoys what might be considered a more unattainable lifestyle at the six-bedroom, $1.2 million house she shares with Cuomo at 4 Bittersweet Lane. She has done much in the past six years to improve the three-acre property she calls Lily Pond, but along the way, has run afoul of town Building Inspector Bill Maskiell.
Maskiell said he had to hound her for six months in 2012 to obtain a building permit for a gazebo and shed she’d installed. Now he says Lee needs permits for interior renovations conducted over the past several years and much touted in the press.
Those other interior renovations included “ripp[ing] out an ’80s-era powder room,” installing “parallel white marble islands in the kitchen,” joining two smaller spaces, installing a “wall of windows” in the living room, and remodeling the basement. Work that the building inspector stated “would definitely require a permit.”
Cuomo’s top aide, Larry Schwartz, defended Lee, claiming that any upgrades to the home were simply “decorative.” While a New York Magazine article from 2011 described Lee as having “just remodeled the basement,” Schwartz redefined that by saying they had only added window treatments. It depends on what the definition of “remodel” is apparently.
Further state taxpayer resources were used to aide Lee in her predicament, with Schwartz stepping in to settle multiple code violations.
Via the Wall Street Journal:
Sandra Lee—the celebrity chef and the live-in girlfriend of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo—settled multiple building code violations at her Westchester County home with the help of a state official.
[Town Inspector William] Maskiell said he began investigating in late 2011 after driving by the home and noticing changes to the property, including a new gazebo and a building shed, Mr. Maskiell said. He said the renovations that Ms. Lee described in interviews in Elle Decor, USA Today and other publications would have likely needed permits.
He said he reached out to Ms. Lee in writing and soon a government representative of Mr. Cuomo returned his inquiries.
“I sent out a notice to Ms. Lee. And a gentleman, I guess he worked for the governor, got back to me,” Mr. Maskiell said. “He asked me what was required in terms of building permits.”
The Journal-News identified the official as Larry Schwartz, Mr. Cuomo’s highest-ranking aide.
Six months later, when the Cuomo aide hadn’t returned Mr. Maskiell’s phone calls and emails requesting more information about the property, the building inspector said he got fed up. “After months of that, it was enough, so I sent a violation notice,” he said. “We had to act on it.”
Mr. Maskiell said the violations were for failure to secure building and wetland permits. Town records weren’t available for inspection on Sunday.
Sometime in the first part of 2012 Ms. Lee applied for and received the proper permits, with fees totaling about $1,000, Mr. Maskiell said.
Interesting though, that the amount of fees totalled $1,000. According to the Journal, “homeowners who retroactively seek building permits for already-completed work pay a $1,000 fee.” Despite Schwartz’ previous claims that the work amounted to nothing more than cosmetic touch-ups, the fact that Cuomo’s girlfriend paid the $1,000 fee seems to be an admission that the work was indeed permit-worthy in nature.
State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R) pulled no punches on his Facebook page this morning, calling it flat-out tax evasion.
Lee apparently never had any building permits yet the interior was extensively renovated, WHILE CUOMO WAS LIVING THERE. Either he is a complete idiot or he was trying to avoid having the house re-assessed…. which is tax evasion by another name.
Cuomo’s girlfriend may have been the one performing renovations on the home, but you’d think the governor and his top aide would have been proactive in dealing with permits when they started seeing walls come down.
Cross-posted at the Mental Recession