Candidate accused of ‘hate crime’ against disabled man

Candidate accused of ‘hate crime’ against disabled man

The owner of a Brighton Beach drug rehabilitation clinic lashed out at Community Board 15 chairwoman and Council candidate Theresa Scavo, saying she’s exploiting his disability to frustrate his plans to relocate the practice to Sheepshead Bay.

“For god’s sake, she has the right to her own opinion, but I want to have peace and I don’t want people to use my disability as something I should be punished for,” said Igor Beregnoi, a psychologist and owner of the First Steps to Recovery substance-abuse treatment center.

Scavo, who has been trying to block Beregnoi’s attempt open a clinic in an apartment building on E. 21st Street, was quoted in a neighborhood blog saying that the psychologist showed disrespect at a meeting with her and assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz by declining to remove his sunglasses.

In a letter to Scavo and Cymbrowitz, Beregnoi, who must wear the prescription sunglasses to sheild his eyes from daylight due to a medical condition, accuses the politicians of using his disability to impugn his character in her effort to derail his relocation plans.

“I understand why they did it,” he said. “I’m a psychologist.”

“You saw his attitude here,” the Sheepshead Bites quoted Scavo as saying Dec. 10, “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.”

In fact, Beregnoi has to wear the sunglasses because he suffers from photophobia and blepharitis — sensitivity to light and dry eye, respectively — after a flash-bang grenade injured him during combat while serving with the Soviet Marines in Vietnam in 1986. A flash-bang grenade a non-lethal explosive device designed to disable combatants by producing a blinding light and deafening bang.

The condition is a constant source of irritation and pain to Beregnoi, mitigated only by the prescription sunglasses he wears up to 12 hours a day.

“I have physical pain, like there’s sand in my eyes,” he said. “It’s a very painful experience.”

Beregnoi says he informed Scavo about his condition at a meeting roughly a year ago, but Scavo said she was not aware of Beregnoi’s condition and that if he did inform her of it, she doesn’t recall.

Scavo claims that Beregnoi was disrespectful in other ways and that he stormed out of Cymbrowitz’s office during last year’s meeting after calling them both liars.

“I can’t speak for Steve,” said Scavo, “but I took it for total disrespect. He asked for a meeting to bring in a drug rehab that he’s going to be in charge of, he asked me to meet with him and give him approval, and he’s going to be rude like that?”

By bringing the issue of his disability to the media, Beregnoi is merely trying to distract attention away from the real controversy, according to Scavo, which is his plan to open a drug rehab clinic in an apartment building on E. 21st Street between Jerome and Voorhies avenues.

“He’s using this to side-step the issue,” she said.

But Beregnoi is adamant that he feels shamed by the chairwoman’s comments, and says that if she continues attacking him along those lines, he’ll be forced to file a report of a disability hate crime with the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“While I have asked them to refrain from escalating what is already an embarrassing situation for me, I did feel that I could not let this behavior, hopefully based on forgetfulness and not malice, continue unchecked,” Beregnoi wrote in the letter he sent to Scavo.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4514.

Wounded in action: Igor Beregnoi says he was wounded in combat by a flash grenade while serving with the Soviet marines in Vietnam, and that’s why he wears his sunglasses indoors, not because he’s disrespectful.