The owner of the controversial drug rehabilitation facility attempting to plant its flag on East 21st Street and Jerome Avenue has shot back at local leaders who’ve opposed the plan, saying that their comments mocked his own personal disability in order to score political points, and he is considering filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
Igor Beregnoi, the program director of First Steps to Recovery, which ignited a turf battle as they sought to relocate from Brighton 12th Street to 2634 East 21st Street, has fired off a letter to Community Board 15 demanding that “Chairwoman [Theresa] Scavo immediately cease and desist her misleading characterizations of my disability.”
Beregnoi cited a December 10 article on Sheepshead Bites that reported on the Board’s vote to oppose the planned facility, saying that it did not belong on a residential block. In the article, Scavo was quoted saying that the owner was arrogant and disrespectful of the Board and local leaders, illustrated by the fact that he wore sunglasses throughout the meeting.
“You saw his attitude here, with the dark sunglasses, that’s how he came to a meeting trying to ask us to support, sitting there with those dark sunglasses and he wouldn’t even take them off during the meeting. And you saw his attitude here,” said at the time.
But according to Beregnoi, he suffers from a disability called photophobia, an extreme sensitivity to light, that causes him to wear sunglasses at all times. He said he sustained this injury during his military service, when a flash grenade detonated close to him.
“I am quite embarrassed by my impairment, and try to bring as little attention to it as possible. Unfortunately, Chairwoman Scavo’s forgetfulness and vocal insensitivity forces me to discuss my private health information in a very public forum,” he wrote in the letter, which he copied Sheepshead Bites on.
He also alluded to a potential complaint to the Humans Rights Commission, describing the comments as a possible “disability hate crime.”
“Friends, family and patients who are aware of my condition, are extremely angered by Chairwoman Scavo’s apparent misrepresentation of my need to wear sunglasses indoors, and are threatening to report this behavior to the Human Rights Commission as a disability hate crime,” he wrote in the letter.
Beregnoi claims that the accusations were not made in ignorance: he said he “explained briefly” that he suffers from the condition during his first meeting with Scavo and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.
Still, he said, he hoped that Scavo was making the statements “based on forgetfulness and not malice.”
Scavo, though, said she could not have forgotten something she was never told.
She claims that he never offered an explanation for the sunglasses, and that calling that first meeting a “meeting” is very generous.
“He was sitting there and when Steve started talking about the complaints of people loitering outside [of his Brighton facility], he called us liars, got up and walked out. That was it. That was the whole meeting. There was no meeting,” she said.
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz was not available to corroborate the account to Sheepshead Bites.
Still, if indeed Beregnoi does suffer from a disability, Scavo said she’s regretful of her previous comments.
“Of course. I feel horrible and it’s a terrible thing. But what has that got that to do with anything? He wants an apology? I had no idea he has any kind of eye affliction,” Scavo said.
She added that, disabled or not, she still opposes the facility and that his affliction has little to do with placing a rehabilitation center on a residential street, in a building packed with children.
“This is a very convenient way of sidestepping the issue,” she said.
Here’s the full letter from Beregnoi: