Suffolk ethics panel defies subpoena

Photo illustration of County of Suffolk Financial Disclosure Photo illustration of County of Suffolk Financial Disclosure Statement form. Photo Credit: Newsday

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A battle over the financial disclosure statements of a former senior Suffolk County official escalated Friday, as the Suffolk Ethics Commission refused to comply with the county comptroller's subpoena for the records and the comptroller directed his lawyer to file contempt charges against the commission's executive director.

The commission and the comptroller's office squared off over the financial disclosure statements of Lawrence J. Cooley, a former $116,000-a-year senior deputy labor commissioner appointed by County Executive Steve Levy. Cooley, 69, of Greenlawn, was fired Oct. 27, after he testified in a federal trial that he made cash payoffs through a private business to a mob-connected contractor.

Comptroller Joseph Sawicki requested the financial disclosures last month, after his office opened an investigative audit into Cooley's activities as a county employee. Although county disclosure statements are routinely released to the public with some financial information redacted, Ethics Commission executive director Alfred Lama told an auditor to subpoena them, according to court papers filed by commission special counsel Steven Leventhal.

Sawicki said it was the first time as the county comptroller that he has had to subpoena records and that he found the commission's refusal to release the forms "bizarre."

Lama did not return repeated calls seeking comment for this story.

After Sawicki subpoenaed the records, according to court papers, Lama asked him for additional time to respond, and Sawicki agreed to a deadline of Friday. On Thursday, the day before the deadline, Leventhal moved to quash the subpoena. The court papers argued that the commission might be subject to legal penalties if it released the forms to Sawicki.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan on Thursday refused to grant the commission's request for a temporary restraining order to block the subpoena, according to court papers and lawyers for both sides. He scheduled a full hearing on Jan. 6 for the commission's separate application for a preliminary injunction to block the subpoena.

Ben Sliney, Leventhal's partner, who appeared for the commission in court, said Friday the commission went to court because "the Suffolk County DA has indicated he would prosecute" if the commission released the financial disclosure records to Sawicki.

That was disputed Friday in a statement released by District Attorney Thomas Spota, who said: "Mr. Sliney's statement is inaccurate. He is misrepresenting this office's position on an unrelated matter before the Legislature more than six weeks ago."

Late Friday, Sawicki's attorney, Anton Borovina, said he would be working over the weekend on a contempt motion against Lama for failure to turn over the records.

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