The controlling partner of a New York City hedge fund company who owns two homes in the Town of East Hampton stole hundreds of eastern white pine tree saplings from two Northwest Woods properties in January, according to police. Ari Meyer Benjamin, 39, was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court last week on four felony charges.
One of the properties is owned by the Peconic Land Trust, the other, a Manhattan couple. They are opposite each other straddling Old Northwest Road, which is around the corner from a home Benjamin bought in 2018.
Benjamin, who owns a residence in the financial district in lower Manhattan, as well as houses in Springs and Northwest Woods, has been charged with third and fourth-degree grand larceny, as well as third and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. Fourth-degree grand larceny means the police value the allegedly stolen items at over $1000, while third degree is over $3000.
Benjamin, who had been in contact with East Hampton town police, was arrested around midnight February 21 apparently at police headquarters.
The same charges that were brought against Benjamin were previously made against a man who told police he was Benjamin’s landscaper, Cesar Sarpes-Santos, 46, of Flanders.
According to the statement Sarpes-Santos gave police after he was arrested on January 26, he has been intermittently working for Benjamin for the past five years, first at Benjamin’s Springs property on Hildreth Place, then at a newly-constructed house on Country Lane. Benjamin purchased the Country Lane property for $2.25 million at the end of 2018.
In Sarpes-Santos’s statement, he said Benjamin contacted him via text message on January 25 asking if he wanted to work that weekend. He had Sarpes-Santos, who brought another worker, meet him at the Country Lane property, where Sarpes-Santos said Benjamin showed the pair where he wanted the white pine trees planted. They then followed Benjamin a little over a mile north on Old Northwest Road.
“Ari got out of his vehicle and stood at the edge of the roadway,” Sarpes-Santos is quoted telling police in his statement. “He pointed to small pine trees on both sides of the road that he wanted me to remove and plant at his house.”
The saplings were each about a foot tall.
“I was concerned that the trees were not located on Mr. Ari’s property,” the landscaper told police, and said he asked Benjamin if it was okay to remove the baby trees. “It’s no problem, it’s just small trees” was the answer Benjamin reportedly gave Sarpes-Santos.
Sarpes-Santos and his fellow worker dug up over 200 saplings from both sides of the road and transported them to the Country Lane property. There, they planted them along the exterior borders of the property, Sarpes-Santos told police, as well as along the circular driveway that opens onto Country Lane and Old Northwest Road. Sarpes-Santos’s co-worker was not charged by police.
Once finished, the pair ran an irrigation hose along the borders of the property. The trees appeared to still be where they allegedly planted them as of Sunday morning.