By Shoshanna McCollum
Almost three years after purchase from its previous owner, Fire Island News has its archives back again.
“We acquired the balance of the collection from Nicole [Wolf],” said this publication’s Co-owner Chris Mercogliano. “Now for the first time in many years there is an indisputable owner of the FIN and its archives.”
Like many other news items we write about, how this collection found its way back home is a story with many twists and turns.
Lance Longo, Esq. of Hauppauge is the attorney that helped negotiate the acquisition.
“I not only helped them purchase the archives, but the purchase of the Fire Island News itself, as well as handled post-closing matters when formerowners came out of the woodwork,” Longo said in a brief telephone conversation.
Out of the woodwork indeed. A lawsuit filed in 2016 by Shawn Beqaj claimed that his former business partner Nicole Wolf (known during their partnership as Nicole Pressly) had sold Fire Island News to Michael Pittman two years prior “without Beqaj’s knowledge or consent,” according to the complaint.
At the time Beqaj filed the motion, Pittman had already sold the publication to the Mercogliano family, and the longtime faltering publication was thriving once again. As a result, Christopher Mercogliano was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Beqaj is a native son of Saltaire. He and Pressly, his girlfriend at the time, purchased the paper together in 1996. The two parted ways in 2003, but the complaint states that he was still a 50 percent shareholder in Five Island Publishing, at that time the parent company of Fire Island News.
“I received a call from another party, who I shall not name as this party was not ultimately joined in this action, who indicated that Wolf and Bequaj had not fully paid and satisfied the debt for their purchase of the FI News,” Longo further explained.
Meanwhile Pittman was being anything but a good seller, refusing to release passwords and other assets that were part of the contracted sale to the Mercoglianos, compelling them to direct Longo to escrow the sales fund until obligations were settled.
As this sordid matter was unfolding, Fire Island News continued to operate with little or no archive to link the publication to its past. For the most part we did okay, but we would receive inquiries from the public requesting to access vintage issues, or an old photograph, and we were simply not in a position to help them.
While it took almost two years, ultimately resolution did happen, and all named parties reached a Stipulation of Settlement. Not only did Wolf relinquish the archives in her possession, ownership of Fire Island News by the Mercogianos was now recognized free and clear.
“My argument was that all prior owners had failed to perfect their security interests in the paper,” wrote Longo in a follow-up email. “Therefore, any subsequent purchasers were unaware that any party other than the seller had an interest in the paper. Chris and Laura were bona fide purchasers, after several court conferences, the judge found my argument convincing. Fortunately for Wolf and Bequaj, those funds were in escrow when they made their claims, because if they had been released to Pittman before the claims were raised, it was extremely unlikely that Pittman would have had those funds when the settlement was issued.”
The archives came into our possession only a few weeks before we went to print for the 2018 season. With that said, we have yet to discover what treasures they fully yield.
“There is some interesting stuff,” said Chris Mercogliano however, like an excited kid in a candy shop. “There are many negatives and a bunch of old photos. One photograph is even labeled Ocean Beach Labor Day Party 1913. A handful of painted pictures by the same artist were also included.”
This sounds like a promising beginning to be sure.
Once the collection is organized and cataloged, it can be put to work. Nostalgic “then and now” photos on Facebook are only the surface of its potential. It can be an important tool for historians, researchers, and even FIN staff as we prepare the news articles we bring to the public. This is a story to be continued…