The Associated Press - April 20, 2012
A special grand jury report finds that unidentified Suffolk County officials used an ethics commission as a "political sword" to attack enemies. It says the commission also was used as a "political shield" to authorize questionable conduct. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota released the 56-page report on April 19 following a two year investigation. State law bars the grand jury from naming the public officials cited in the report. Spota said the report exposes behavior by public officials acting in the name of the Ethics Commission that was unprincipled and wrong, but not criminal. He urged new laws that would make public officials in the future subject to prosecution. The report said the commission permitted its work to be dictated by certain county officials for political purposes.
Timeline of the Suffolk ethics issues
Newsday - April 19, 2012
- June 3, 2008 Ben Zwirn, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's top legislative aide, files an ethics complaint against Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches). The complaint alleges that Romaine has a conflict of interest advocating for the county's nursing home because Romaine's wife and sister-in-law work there.
- Oct. 8 Newsday publishes a story about an ethics complaint filed by three Levy staffers -- Zwirn, Jeffrey Szabo and Jim Morgo -- against former Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino. The complaint alleges that Sabatino -- who only learned of the complaint from a reporter -- violated a rule that banned for two years former county employees from working on matters that were pending when they left.
- March 18, 2009 After five months of trying to get a report of the complaint, Sabatino is served with the papers outlining the charges.
- Oct. 18 In a story in Newsday, Presiding Officer William Lindsay says he was surprised that Levy knew about the ethics complaint regarding Romaine, as they are supposed to be confidential.
- June 7, 2010 Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota subpoenas records related to the county's financial disclosure forms. The subpoena comes after Newsday inquiries about why Levy filed a state financial disclosure form rather than the more detailed county form mandated by county law.
- June 22 Lindsay announces that he is forming a special legislative committee to probe the ethics commission. He says the commission's decisions do not appear to be independent. "Maybe they're independent decisions, but it doesn't appear to be that," he says.
- July 8 Newsday reports that court reporting firms owned by Levy's wife, Colleen West, have received work from businesses that have been paid millions of dollars in county contracts. Levy said nothing in county ethics law requires him to disclose these relationships.
- Aug. 3 Levy releases redacted county financial disclosure forms that he filled out after the subpoena.
- Aug. 17 The Suffolk Legislature votes 13-5 to hire former federal prosecutor Joseph Conway as counsel to the special legislative committee investigating the ethics commission. Levy spokesman Dan Aug says, "The hiring of an attorney is not only wasteful and unnecessary, it is a slap at the integrity of the ethics commission members without a scintilla of evidence that they have been anything but honorable." Lindsay says he told Spota's office about lobbying against the hiring of a special counsel by the Levy administration. Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) says Levy tried to threaten him before the vote by disclosing information from his financial form.
- Sept. 21 On the eve of the first hearing of the special legislative committee probing the ethics commission, Levy issues a statement saying that the inquiry is "politically motivated in an effort to discredit the county executive."
- Sept. 22 Newsday reports that Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) says in a sworn statement that Levy knew the legislator was late in filing his financial disclosure form. He says it is against county law to disclose information from the disclosure forms. Levy spokesman Dan Aug says any information Levy obtained about Gregory's form was learned through the Freedom of Information Law.
- Oct. 13 Newsday reports that some ethics commissioners and staffers have made campaign contributions to the very officials they regulate -- a practice some government ethics experts say undermines the body's independence.
- Oct. 26 Newsday reports that the special committee investigating the ethics commission has subpoenaed records. The committee takes action after failing to negotiate the release of the records.
- March 30, 2011 The Suffolk district attorney subpoenas the time sheets of ethics commission Executive Director Alfred Lama. County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki says that a review of the time sheets uncovered questions about Lama's hours. Records obtained by Newsday show that Lama has not worked full time since 2005, even though his position is full time.
- SOURCE: Suffolk grand jury report, Newsday research