Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
The unresolved case of whether former Babylon Democratic chairman Robert Stricoff gave himself as much as $125,000 in unauthorized raises and perks may finally be coming to a head.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota's office last week started calling in members of Babylon Town's Democratic executive committee for interviews, according to sources familiar with the probe. The committee has six members -- plus several others who served during only part of Stricoff's tenure.
What makes the executive committee central to the inquiry is that under county party rules, it must meet and vote to approve all party expenditures.
While Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer holds an annual meeting of the county executive committee to set his salary and benefits, the question is whether Stricoff held similar meetings with the town executive committee to vote on his pay and benefits.
Party sources say the last salary properly approved for Stricoff in his decade in the job was $20,000 a year. But over the years, according to party sources, he increased his salary and personal benefits without authorization and in his last year was paid $60,000 plus a $20,000 bonus as well as unauthorized expenses. He also earned $130,000 a year as CEO of the Babylon Industrial Agency.
John Carman, Stricoff's attorney, said he was aware of the district attorney interviews but said his client was not among them. Carman said Democrats and GOP hold Stricoff "in high regard for his professionalism" and his electoral successes.
"Bob's compensation was properly authorized, publicly disclosed and all taxes were paid," Carman said. "We are confident that the district attorney's investigation will be fair and will reach the only rational conclusion -- that is that no crime was committed."
Spota, County Executive Steve Bellone and new Babylon Democratic leader Peter Casserly declined to comment.
Republicans say the outcome of the district attorney's probe could have a major political impact on Bellone, since Stricoff is a boyhood friend and a major fundraiser. Sources also say that before Stricoff's exit as town Democratic chief, he and Bellone were engaged in a behind-the-scenes struggle with Schaffer over control of the local Democratic Party.
"It could have a tremendous impact on Bellone because Stricoff was his closest political ally," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman.
Bellone, up for re-election, this week delivers his State of the County message and previews his speech and poll numbers to his biggest political backers at a breakfast. Party nominations will be in May.
Democrats downplay the impact on Bellone, noting that no Republican has stepped forward to take him on for county executive. They note LaValle recently got the party's executive committee to retroactively authorize his $100,000 salary, dating to 2009. LaValle said the vote "memorializes" what party officials had informally approved in the past, and he received no pay increase.
But Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the GOP caucus leader, sees fallout for all Babylon Town Democrats.
"No one involved in Babylon Democratic politics can divorce themselves from any of this," McCaffrey said. "They all had a responsibility to know what was going on in the party. It makes you wonder how they are running the government."
However, Schaffer emphasized that he gave prosecutors the audit of town party finances in September, just before Stricoff was to have begun working as the $155,000-a-year executive director of the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency, a job he never started.
"Clearly, Kevin is having short-term memory loss," Schaffer said.