Southampton Billionaire Hatches Plover-the-Top Scheme

Piping plover nesting on eggs
Nesting piping plover, Photo: Paul Tessier/123RF

The Hamptons Police Department and agents from the East End Fish & Wildlife Protectorate (EEFWP) arrested a wealthy summer homeowner this week for illegally transporting a colony of nesting piping plovers onto the beach in front of his oceanfront mansion.

Tech billionaire Benedict Avianos is charged with hiring a crew to collect at least two dozen of the birds and their eggs—which are protected as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act—from a neighboring beach in Southampton’s estate section, and moving them to the dunes and sands directly in front of his home. Avianos then notified local authorities about the nesting birds, hoping they would close the beach to the public.

“Mr. Avianos nearly got away with it,” Hamptons Police spokesman Larry Hirsch said on Wednesday. “An EEFWP team was dispatched to his location, and were taking steps to close the beach when several biologists noticed that placement of their eggs was not in keeping with piping plovers’ natural tendencies,” he explained. “A more extensive investigation, including responding to reports that a nearby piping plover colony had vanished, led Protectorate agents to find footage of the crime on a local surf shop’s ‘beach cam.’”

Within two days of his initial call to authorities, Avianos found himself in handcuffs as EEFWP agents and supporting Hamptons Police officers led the billionaire to jail. Reporters at the scene heard Avianos complain, “Is it a crime to want my private property to actually be private? The local government and our Trustees are the guilty ones—not me!”

Interfering and/or taking a piping plover or one of their eggs is punishable by up to six months in prison and fines up to $25,000, according to Hirsch, who added, “Mr. Avianos is charged with capturing and moving as many as 25 birds and multiple clutches of eggs, with 3–4 eggs in each clutch, so he’s in quite a bit of trouble.”

Avianos was freed on $15,000 bail and awaits trial and sentencing. Meanwhile, the EEFWP is dealing with the relocated birds, which have settled in nicely at Avianos’ beach. “Unfortunately, moving the plovers again comes with too much risk, so the Protectorate has been forced to do what Mr. Avianos wanted all along,” Hirsch said. “They’ve closed the beach, but we’ve also installed security cameras to ensure that neither Mr. Avianos nor his family and friends go anywhere near that beach while the birds remain.”

It appears Avianos got exactly what he wanted—an unsullied ocean view—and being that money is no object, Hamptons District Attorney Gary Granthaler is seeking the steepest sentence, which could amount to several years in jail. “Fines are pointless when going after a man like this, so we’re hoping some time behind bars will teach him a lesson,” Granthaler said. “It’s either that or putting up some kind of wall to block his view, and that’s just not possible.”

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