Adam O’Connor recalls the parties sometimes stretching until 4 a.m.
Loud parties. With lots of teens screeching and blaring music. And, he claims, plenty of alcohol.
During the four months that O’Connor rented the lower suite of State Sen. Marc C. Panepinto’s Sunset Bay beach house, he said underage parties featuring alcohol occurred far too often – as many as five or six times – for a 32-year-old working man facing an early call.
“They’d play beer pong up there all night,” O’Connor said. “And whenever one of them would win or lose, they’d all scream.”
After one party, O’Connor said, he returned the empty beer bottles. He got $20.
Sunset Bay is not the only Panepinto property sparking concerns about underage drinking. Parents complained to City Honors School officials for at least two years that the Bidwell Parkway home of Panepinto and his wife – State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto – attracted teens who drank there, according to four sources connected to the school.
“I am extremely disappointed that people who would have such a responsibility to the community would be so ill-equipped to deal with the situation that came into their own house,” said Jerrold Hock, a parent whose son attended at least one of the parties in Buffalo. “It has involved so many other children, and that is the ultimate in selfishness.”
Sen. Panepinto refused a Buffalo News request for an interview about allegations of underage drinking parties. Justice Panepinto did not return a phone call.
But on March 16, Sen. Panepinto told The News that those claims are “frankly the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Nobody alleges that Panepinto last week opted not to seek a second term in Albany because of underage drinking parties. But acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said last week that school district concerns about the parties have prompted an investigation.
A state ethics panel is also now weighing whether to begin a separate formal probe of Sen. Panepinto regarding unrelated issues, according to Albany sources.
The senator said there was no cause for concern. Responding to allegations that an underage drinking party occurred at his home in February, he said a week ago that he and his wife took one of their daughters to Boston the weekend of Feb. 26-27 for a volleyball tournament. They left their 19-year-old daughter at home to supervise their 14-year-old daughter (a City Honors freshman), he said, while his brother and sister stopped by to check on things.
“There’s no problem that occurred that I’m aware of,” Panepinto said then.
But according to three sources who are parents or school community leaders familiar with the situation, the Panepinto home on Bidwell transformed into “party central.”
One source said the young partygoers were mostly high school sophomores, and all three said the gathering featured alcohol. The sources were reluctant to be named out of fear of reprisals by Marc Panepinto, as were several other people interviewed for this story.
One father’s story
Parents have complained to City Honors authorities for at least two years about the underage drinking parties, parent and school sources said.
Hock said his son, who graduated from City Honors in 2014, attended parties with alcohol at the Panepinto home and later at the Sunset Bay beach house.
Hock said his son drank at the Panepintos’ house in Buffalo when the parents were on vacation. That upset him, he said, but he decided not to confront the power couple.
“I could have pursued it, but the station the Panepintos hold was somewhat like going up against a force field that I would not be able to prevail against,” Hock said. “I knew that, if I caused a commotion, they were in a position to make things difficult for me.”
Hock also said he brought his concerns “and named names” to William Kresse, the City Honors principal.
“To my knowledge, nothing ever came of it,” Hock said. “Should the school have done something? Yeah, I think they should have. They had a responsibility.”
Asked whether parents had complained to him or other school officials about underage drinking parties at the Panepinto house, Kresse issued a written statement:
“We equip our students in school through programs that inform and encourage good and responsible behavior in their lives – good citizenry – but when a law is broken in the community or private homes, we typically have no jurisdiction,” he said.
One parent aware of the situation said she would not allow her child to visit the Panepinto home any longer. Another mother also familiar with the situation acknowledged that parents bear the brunt of responsibility for supervising their own children.
But she also said she expects that parents will soon gather to “figure out how to move forward on this,” and that she hopes to involve the Buffalo Police Department in the discussions.
Beach house parties
O’Connor moved into the lower suite of a Sunset Bay beach house in October that Cornell Mansion LLC – headquartered at Panepinto’s 1260 Delaware Ave. law office – bought last May for $515,000, according to county records.
The only sounds wafting over his new home back then were from waves crashing onto the vast beach out front.
But as Christmas vacation set in, O’Connor said, several parties hosted by a Panepinto daughter attracted teens to the beach house.
One of those parties occurred the evening of Jan. 4 and spilled into Jan. 5, O’Connor said. As the noise continued, he said, he texted one of Panepinto’s teenage daughters – with a request to tamp down the noise upstairs.
The noise escalated, and he continued to ask for quiet. Finally he called the Panepintos’ rental agent. Nothing happened.
Feeling he had run out of options, he called the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office early on the morning of Jan. 5. When deputies entered through the home’s sliding glass doors upstairs, O’Connor said, he heard them admonish the party attendees and then take five to 10 minutes to dump liquid he presumed was alcohol down the sink. He did not see the activity, he said, but said he clearly heard it.
“The police made the daughter call her mom, and then Marc came,” O’Connor said. “The cops told them all to stay there, that if they left they would arrest them for DWI.”
Sheriff’s records indicate a deputy (the official report says one deputy, O’Connor said two responded in two cars) came to the Sunset Bay address on Jan. 5 after receiving a noise complaint at 1:42 a.m. The deputy heard loud music and voices inside the house and told the residents to quiet down, a spokeswoman said.
No arrests were made, and the spokeswoman said there was “no information” about underage drinking in the incident report.
O’Connor contacted The News when he read in The News that the senator denied any inappropriate activity at his Buffalo home.
O’Connor said the morning after the party he received a call from Robin Shifflet, who manages rentals at the beach house and also is volleyball coach for one of the Panepinto daughters. He acknowledged to her summoning police the night before.
O’Connor said Shifflet informed him: “Marc says it’s not working out. You have 30 days to get out.”
Despite a six-month lease for the beachfront home, O’Connor complied.
“I was too scared of him. Plus his wife is a Supreme Court judge,” he said. “Oh man. I just moved out.”
O’Connor, a heating and cooling systems worker on disability, said he remains fearful the couple will flex political muscles to influence a drug possession charge he faces in Orchard Park Town Court. He believes it will be settled satisfactorily, but now harbors new fears.
Shifflet, an educator who coaches the Niagara Frontier Volleyball Club on which the Panepinto daughter plays, said she was aware of the police visit to the house and O’Connor’s noise complaints.
“I didn’t know so much about drinking as noise,” she said. “It was always about noise. Were there parties? Yeah. Was there drinking? I don’t know.”
She said the senator demanded O’Connor’s eviction because he was summoned to the beach house in the middle of the night when he had to work the next day. She said he was “mad … and did not want to deal with these noise complaints.”
Shifflet described the Panepinto daughter on her team as “bright and talented and I don’t think alcohol ever has played a part in her life. She’s too serious; she’s too focused.”
But O’Connor said he remains bitter over the situation. He said he felt forced to summon deputies. The result, O’Connor said, was his eviction.
“I told the cops I didn’t want to get kicked out,” he said. “Sure enough. Look what happened.”