Poxy Golf Pro Found Not Guilty in Criminal Court

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Steven Lee, center, leaving court last Thursday with his wife, Debbie, and attorneys, Patrick O’Connell and James O’Shea, left and right. Stephen J. Kotz photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

Steven Lee, the former manager of the Poxabogue Golf Center in Sagaponack, was found not guilty of a felony charge of unlawful surveillance in the second degree in Suffolk County criminal court on Thursday afternoon.

One of Mr. Lee’s defense attorneys, Patrick O’Connell, said jurors, who discussed the case with the defense team after delivering their verdict, told him they had initially been deadlocked 6-6, but after two full days of deliberations, they eventually reached an agreement that Mr. Lee was not guilty.

“They said creepy is not criminal,” he said.

In a brief interview on Saturday, Mr. Lee, 47, said he was just beginning to feel free of the emotional burden the trial left on him. “I woke up Thursday night in a cold sweat, thinking the trial was still going on,” he said.

“I had faith the right decision would be reached,” he added, “but you never know in a court of law.”

Mr. Lee was arrested on October 21, 2015, three months after he took a photo of a 16-year-old girl, who was sitting on a bench outside his office at Poxabogue with her legs spread. The window was covered with a reflective film that made it difficult to see into the office.

Shortly after taking the photo, Mr. Lee showed it to three co-workers. “It was a sophomoric moment out of ‘Bevis and Butthead,’” said Mr. O’Connell. “And he showed it to three other knuckleheads, who perhaps thought they could oust him out of his license for the golf course.”

Immediately following Mr. Lee’s arrest on the felony charge and a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child, the town terminated his contract.

Assistant District Attorney John Cortes, who prosecuted the case, sought to narrow the jury’s focus the taking and sharing of the photograph itself, which he described as focusing on her crotch area.

But Mr. Lee’s defense team, which included Southampton attorney James O’Shea, argued the photo may have been taken in bad taste but did not rise to the level of a felony offense that carried a maximum prison sentence of four years. They also tried to undermine the suggestion that the photo was a “crotch shot” because the image extended from her neck line all the way down to her feet.

Had Mr. Lee been found guilty, he would have been required to register as sex offender for 10 years, Mr. O’Connell.

During the weeklong trial, they twice asked Justice John J. Toomey to dismiss the case, saying Mr. Lee’s actions did not meet the letter of the law. To be guilty of unlawful surveillance in a public place, they argued he would have had to take a photograph up and under the victim’s skirt to show her underwear or private parts.

Mr. O’Connell and Mr. O’Shea hit hard at some of the prosecution’s witnesses. Eric Schultzel, John Haining, Howard Matheson, suggesting they brought the incident to the town’s attention because they realized the Poxabogue contract was a lucrative one and they might have wanted to push Mr. Lee out and replace him. Mr. Schultzel did, in fact, bid on the contract, but he did not win it.

They also questioned why the employees and the town itself waited until September to turn the matter over to police and cast doubts on the thoroughness of the investigation.

Mr. O’Shea said he believed strongly that the photograph simply did not rise to the level of unlawful surveillance, which he said more typically refers to the type of eavesdropping in which someone places a secret camera in a rental property or in a women’s changing room, where a there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The part of the law that refers to activity in public places refers to cases in which someone secretly tries to take a photograph underneath the clothing of the victim, Mr. O’Shea said.

“This was a stupid thing he did, no question,” Mr. O’Shea added. “And I think the jury came to that same conclusion.”

“There were 1,178 photos on that phone, and all of them were of him and his dog, his kids, his wife, or teaching lessons,” added. “And then there was this one photograph.”

Mr. Lee, who now sells cars for a living, said he had not yet made up his mind if he would sue the town for damages.

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