An attempt by prosecutors to preclude mention of Islip Town politics in an upcoming fraud case against members of a formerly politically connected family was shot down by a state Supreme Court justice in a Central Islip courtroom Thursday.
Clara Datre, her son Thomas Datre Jr. and his sister, Gia Gatien, are accused of defrauding the Town of Islip out of $250,000 from contracts awarded after superstorm Sandy for cleanup and a separate tree-trimming contract, where they allegedly stole $100,000 from their workers by failing to pay them prevailing wages and overbilling Islip for the rest. They have pleaded not guilty.
Andrew Campanelli, counsel for Clara Datre and her company Daytree at Cortland Square Inc., said in court Thursday that he has it "on a good-faith basis" that Islip Town employees, under political pressure from their bosses, altered financial documents at the heart of the fraud case.
He urged Justice Fernando Camacho to dismiss a motion by prosecutors that would not allow cross-examination pertaining to politics in the upcoming fraud trial. Camacho rejected that request.
It was Campanelli's first mention of the allegation of altered town records in court, and it is not part of a $41 million federal civil lawsuit filed earlier his year by the Clara Datre and Thomas Datre Sr. against several Islip Town officials. The suit alleges Islip Conservative and Republican Party members working for the town, as well as the former Islip Conservative Party boss, conspired to deflect blame from themselves and onto the Datres for illegal dumping that occurred at a town-owned park and three other sites.
Before news of the illegal dumping probe surfaced in April 2014, Clara Datre and her husband, Thomas Datre Sr., were prominent donors to Islip's Republican and Conservative parties. Datre Sr., his son, and others are awaiting trial in the dumping case.
Edward Heilig, the Suffolk County district attorney office's division chief, also sought to prevent defendants from arguing that they were selectively targeted in the district attorney's investigation because of alleged "pressure put on the DA's office" to prosecute them. Camacho ruled that he would allow it on a question by question basis.
It was the probe into illegal dumping, said Kevin Kearon, attorney for Thomas Datre Jr., that resulted in a second investigation into the family's financial practices.
"This is the most political case brought by the Suffolk County district attorney's office in recent memory," Kearon said in court Thursday.Prosecutors are expected to call about 40 witnesses to testify during the fraud trial, including several Islip Town employees. Jury selection is set to begin Friday.