Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla asked a deputy town attorney whether he could pay a female subordinate who had accused him of sexual harassment $10,000 to make the complaint "go away," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Tuesday.
The town attorney immediately rejected the idea, and ordered Bonilla not to contact the woman who made the complaint, Rice said at a news conference.
Rice called upon anyone else who might have experienced a hostile work environment under Bonilla, or has information about attempts by Bonilla to quash complaints against him, to contact her office.
Rice called it "unacceptable for an elected official" to create such an environment.
Rice said there has been no determination as to whether additional charges might be filed.
Bonilla's attorney, Adrian DiLuzio of Mineola, accused Rice of trying to make an example out of Bonilla for political gain.
DiLuzio said Rice mischaracterized the discussion about the suggested payment. He said Bonilla met with a town attorney to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit stemming from the town's investigation into complaints against Bonilla, and the clerk mentioned the possibility of a settlement to avoid a lawsuit.
No dollar figure was discussed, DiLuzio said. He added that Rice's call for more complainants to step forward is wrongheaded because no crimes were committed. "It's about as close to criminal as we are to Mars," he said, adding, "It's not a bribe."
Before Rice's news conference, Bonilla said he planned to work through the week before discussing with his family whether to resign his position.
The town's investigation began in mid-August, Town Supervisor Kate Murray has said. During the probe, Bonilla talked to the deputy town attorney about the suggested $10,000 payment, said a source close to the case. The town contacted the district attorney's office on Thursday, Murray has said.
Rice's office learned about the proposed $10,000 payment Friday when investigators interviewed officials from the Hempstead Town attorney's office, but wanted to talk more extensively with town officials before speaking about it publicly, Rice spokesman John Byrne said. Those additional interviews took place Tuesday morning, he said. Rice did not identify the deputy town attorney.
Rice said she did not know whether the $10,000 was to be from town funds or Bonilla's money.
Bonilla reported for duty Tuesday morning and left work at 1:15 p.m. He said he came in to work primarily to meet with his staff.
"I wanted to tell my employees that [despite] my personal issues right now . . . they still have a job to do," he said. "I've always been blessed. I have great employees."
Bonilla, 50, of Bellmore, pleaded not guilty Saturday to misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, second-degree attempted coercion and petty larceny.
Rice said that after Bonilla's conversation with the deputy town attorney, he attempted to get what a criminal complaint described as "intimate and personal photographs" of the woman to discredit or silence her accusations.
Bonilla admitted during the investigation that he was aware of photographs of the subordinate female employee, a law enforcement source said.
Town spokesman Mike Deery said the town would not comment "on any specifics of the case." He said, "We fully support the district attorney and will continue to work closely with the district attorney's office."
In response to Rice's call for other potential victims to come forward, Deery said, "We support that call and encourage anyone who feels it's appropriate to contact the district attorney's office in this matter."
The town is still researching the possibility of removing Bonilla from office, Deery said.
Murray and five of the other six town board members have urged Bonilla to resign from his $129,500-a-year position.
Three women in their 20s have made allegations "of a sexual nature" against Bonilla, describing a "hostile work environment," according to a law enforcement source.
Bonilla, who has declined to address the charges directly, is due in District Court in Hempstead on Oct. 26.
With Aisha Al-Muslim