Home Opinion Greg Blass Who will replace Suffolk DA Spota? Is the race for real...

Who will replace Suffolk DA Spota?
Is the race for real — or just a show?

District Attorney Thomas Spota, who is not seeking re-election after 16 years as Suffolk's top prosecutor, faced no opposition in 2005, 2009 and 2013 thanks to cross-endorsement deals by party bosses. File photo: Denise Civiletti

I have commented in this space before on the unhealthy mix of law enforcement and politics in Suffolk County, and the disturbing pattern of unchecked corruption that weaves its way through it. This coming Election Day, Nov. 7, we voters have a rare chance to do something about it. The campaign for Suffolk district attorney, for the first time in 12 years, is contested. And no matter how distant this race may seem, in fact it has much to do with making Suffolk County what it is.

There will be three DA candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot: Raymond Perini, running on the Republican and Reform Party lines; Christopher Garvey on the Libertarian line, and Timothy Sini on the Democratic, Working Families, Conservative and Independence lines. If the county party bosses’ plans had panned out last spring, Sini would be on the Republican line as well, and once again, there would have been no real choice for DA on the ballot. Let’s look back a bit.

Last spring, the Suffolk Republican leader reached out to his fellow party wheeler-dealers to bargain yet again with cross-endorsing one candidate for DA and one for sheriff. For his part, the Suffolk Democratic leader gleefully announced this overture to the Democratic Party faithful, ordering that the party’s DA ballot line was his to decide. Of course, the Independence and Conservative party bosses were in. But then a party rule, adopted at the county Republican convention four years ago, became a problem for the Republican chairman that just wouldn’t go away.

So this rule forbade further GOP cross-endorsements with the Democratic Party for county-wide positions in elections. Then the other party bosses griped that their their GOP buddy was being a “scutch,” to stop whining, revoke the rule, and get on with the deal. The Republican boss tried just that, but there arose cranky resistance among his GOP committee. Foreseeing the inevitable, he then made it appear that he now respected the rule, didn’t like cross-endorsements anymore, and reluctantly facilitated the Perini nomination. All this irked the other party bosses, who went ahead with Sini.

At first, all this made Sini edgy. He had counted on Dem/GOP cross-endorsement for a quiet campaign, quelling complaints of ethics problems over staying in his job as Suffolk Police Commish while “campaigning” for district attorney. But the Newsday/Channel 12 news monopoly gave their blessing, and so to this day he does both. After all, a county PD commissioner who has his hand out for help to be elected DA suits Suffolk’s power elite very nicely.

For their part, the relentlessly powerful Suffolk police unions are backing Sini big-time (one of many ethical problems), but for now they are stealthily lying low in this race. While holding back on campaign bucks from their huge union PACS (so as not to appear in Sini’s campaign finance reports for all to see), watch these final weeks of the campaign, when their robo calls and TV ads will more than make up for their current, discreetly low profile.

You can bet that the county police unions are grateful to their commish. He recently (and shockingly) allowed 87 serious police misconduct complaints to sit for so long in the PD’s Internal Affairs Unit, unresolved and uncompleted, due to “staff shortages,” that they were altogether dropped. Now there is no record about the content of these complaints, some of which were filed against county police officers by other police. This travesty earned not a word from Newsday/Ch12, the county legislature or the county executive who appointed Sini. As much an outrage is the resounding silence about this scandal in the campaign of Sini’s GOP opponent, Ray Perini. Isn’t he complicit just by his silence?

Does this say much more about Sini and Perini? What official misconduct or criminal behavior will either simply not confront as DA? Should the deliberate erasure of 87 complaints in the county PD’s internal affairs unit disqualify not only the one who did it, but also the candidate who ignores it? Would the election of either as DA further erode public confidence in government? Let’s reflect on these questions.

Consider that our county executive has publicly branded the current county DA’s office as a “criminal enterprise,” demanding the incumbent DA’s resignation. For his part, DA Thomas Spota attributes such CE’s allegations to his anxiety over Spota’s prosecution of CE staff. Meanwhile, sources talk of an explosive file that DA Spota has shared with state investigators about corruption in a town’s industrial development agency that implicates Suffolk officials. And there are published reports of an ongoing federal grand jury probe of at least one of DA Spota’s top prosecutors.

Consider next that the current DA prosecuted a lawyer and former assistant DA for a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud racket (see “The curious case of Robert Macedonio,” Newsday 2/7/2016). Why did this felony conviction result in a light, conditional sentence, then mild probation? More astonishing is why, three years later, his felony conviction was reduced at DA Spota’s urging to a misdemeanor, allowing Macedonia’s law license to be restored. Public files on this case are largely empty, adding to this disgrace. One public file in this case bears the message, “This file envelope as well as why sealed is sealed.” In fact, lawyers and journalists report that now more than ever, criminal case files assembled in the name of the people are sealed without explanation and inaccessible. Neither Sini nor Perini ever mention this.

Consider next how the NY Department of Corrections chided the Suffolk DA’s and medical examiner’s offices for their slip-shod investigations into the continuing mystery of the death of a local carpenter while held in the county PD’s Babylon precinct after his arrest for allegedly violating an order of protection. Consider as well the arbitrary practice of the DA’s paying hefty cash bonuses to favored DA staff from seized money with no legislative approval. Consider finally the videotaped, near-fatal shooting several years ago of a prominent Suffolk developer, all caught on video, right down to the assailant’s fleeing car, which to this day remains as unsolved a mystery as the grisly, serial killings of a number of women found in shallow graves along Gilgo Beach.

With all these and so much more to consider, we have to decide that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office desperately requires a dramatic, clean sweep. But Timothy Sini, with all these party boss ballot lines, will assure quite the opposite. And his Republican opponent, once a ranking member of the DA’s staff himself, meekly plods along with so ho-hum a campaign that one wonders if the Suffolk GOP leader is doing his part to deliver the election to Sini after all.

That leaves us Christopher Garvey, whose campaign website deserves attention, with his welcome disconnection from this Suffolk rogues’ gallery. The cancer in county law enforcement and the upper echelons of county government well serves to justify his election. The voters have no viable alternative. Just as they did in the magnificent result of the GOP primary of Lawrence Zacarese for sheriff, the voters just might save the day in the county DA’s election this Nov. 7.

Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg