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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Steve Bellone seeks state opinion on legality of Suffolk DA bonuses

Suffolk County executive says funds given to staffers weren’t authorized by county lawmakers; Thomas Spota’s office says payments were proper.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is seeking a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is seeking a state opinion about the legality of bonuses paid to county prosecutors. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has asked state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to determine if $2.7 million in bonuses given by District Attorney Thomas Spota to staff prosecutors is legal.

In his letter, Bellone said the bonuses, paid for through an asset forfeiture fund, were not authorized by the county legislature and there is “no authority in . . . [the county code] for bonuses to be paid for to county employees.” Bellone has said it appeared the payments were made “in secret.”

Robert Clifford, Spota’s spokesman, said, “The county executive office was well aware of every single one of the special payrolls where in the merit payments were made. Yet over the last six years, our office has not received a letter, an email or phone call from anyone in his office questioning the legality of these payments.”

Clifford said the use of asset forfeiture funds to pay stipends to assistant district attorneys is allowable under state and federal law.

Bellone’s letter comes after Spota and his top aide, Christopher McPartland, were indicted last week in connection with a cover-up of ex-Suffolk Police Chief of Department James Burke’s attack on a burglary suspect.

Spota, whose term is up at year’s end, and McPartland have pleaded not guilty. Spota said he will retire as soon as he files the proper paperwork.

Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokeswoman, said the office is reviewing Bellone’s request.

Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy has said his research indicated the bonuses are a “permissible use of state asset forfeiture funds.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn has also issued subpoenas for records on the bonuses from the county comptroller, according to county sources.

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