Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature are calling on federal prosecutors to investigate the arrest of a witness in a politically charged court case that led to last week's ouster of county Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.
At a news conference Monday in Mineola, minority leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the Democratic caucus planned to ask Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, to probe the circumstances behind the October arrest of Randy White, 29, of Roosevelt.
White was a witness in a trial to examine the validity of nominating petitions former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick had submitted to run as a third-party candidate for Nassau County executive. White had testified that Hardwick paid him $1.25 per petition signature he collected. Petitioners legally can be paid per hour, but not per signature. Hardwick has denied White's claim.
A report last week by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said developer Gary Melius, who largely financed Hardwick's campaign, called Dale and said the Hardwick campaign wanted to file a perjury charge against White.
Police declined to charge White with perjury, but discovered a warrant for his arrest from August, and Dale ordered that White be located and arrested. Rice described Dale's decision to intervene in the case "unusual" but said no criminal laws were broken.
"We cannot tolerate any abuse of power or any intimidation of witnesses," Abrahams said of the need for a federal probe.
U.S. attorney spokesman Robert Nardoza declined to comment.
Democrats on Monday also pressed the Republican majority in the legislature to hold public hearings on White's arrest, but Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said yesterday she would not because Rice's report found "no criminality."
James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, Nassau's largest police union, said he did not think legislative hearings were necessary because Rice's report "put the facts out about what happened."
Rice's probe resulted in Dale being forced from his post by Mangano, who had appointed him to lead the department in January 2012.
Democrats said Mangano, as Dale's boss, should have been aware of the circumstances of White's arrest.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin noted statements in Rice's report that her "investigation had uncovered nothing to suggest that either you [Mangano] or members of your administration were involved in the case against Mr. White.
"We will have no response to those who now seek to engage in cheap partisan politics," Nevin said.
Nassau Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs also repeated calls for a federal investigation, criticizing Rice's handling of the case.
"I have tremendous respect for her but I just do not think these conclusions meet the smell test," Jacobs said in a phone interview. "I think someone should have been indicted for witness intimidation."
Rice spokesman Shams Tarek responded that "aspects of this investigation are ongoing and criminal charges are always based on evidence and the law. The DA has a strong record of prosecuting improper conduct and influence in government and will continue to follow the facts in a responsible manner."A group of about 20 community activists and Democratic supporters from Hempstead and Roosevelt attended the news conference.
Male cq Timmons, president of the Adams Court Tenants Association in Hempstead, said he planned to attend future legislative meetings to press for hearings.
"I would hope they pursue this in federal court," Timmons said. "This isn't a black or white issue, this is about preserving civil rights."