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Suffolk police, DA’s office at odds over drug charge dismissal

Gerard Gigante, Suffolk police chief of detectives, seen

Gerard Gigante, Suffolk police chief of detectives, seen April 27, 2017, alleged in a Nov. 1 letter that the Suffolk County district attorney's office dismissed a drug charge "to advance a personal agenda." Credit: Ed Betz

The Suffolk police department and district attorney’s office traded accusations of dishonesty and dishonorable behavior Thursday, a day after prosecutors dismissed a drug charge because they said police knew there was no legal basis for it.

The dispute followed the dismissal of the case against Corey Robinson, 24, of Mastic Beach. He was arrested on Oct. 27 and charged with first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. The next day, police Commissioner Timothy Sini, who is the Democratic candidate for district attorney in Tuesday’s election, had a news conference and said Robinson had received “over 1.1 million doses of fentanyl” in a shipment from China.

But prosecutors said the white powder from China wasn’t fentanyl — an opioid far stronger than heroin — or any illegal drug. They said Sini and the detectives knew that before the arrest and the news conference.

At the heart of the dispute was a Suffolk Crime Laboratory analysis of the white powder. According to prosecutors, that test, which found no illegal drugs, was the basis for the news conference and for a search warrant for Robinson’s house and arrest. But police officials say that even though the powder was not fentanyl, the lab determined it was an analog — an illegal substance chemically similar to fentanyl.

An analog, however, would not support the charge for which Robinson was arrested, prosecutors said.

Neither prosecutors nor police would release the lab report. An outside lab is examining the powder now.

If it contains a fentanyl analog, prosecutors said, Robinson could be recharged with a lesser crime.

Reactions to the case dismissal were swift and sharp.

First, police Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante, in a letter Wednesday evening to Chief Assistant District Attorney Emily Constant, accused the district attorney’s office of destroying a case out of spite.

“The criminal justice system should not be weaponized to advance a personal agenda with a complete disregard for whom it adversely affects, in this case working detectives and assistant district attorneys from your own office,” Gigante wrote. “Additionally, the public is the biggest loser in all of this as the drug dealer has been set free. We both know that this case could have been made. I have always been upfront with you and your office and I think it was reasonable to expect the same respect in return. I’m looking forward to your office returning to the honorable institution it once was.”

Then Constant replied to Gigante Thursday, telling him he had no case.

“We were ethically required to dismiss the charge because at this moment in time there was no probable cause, reasonable cause or any other basis to believe he committed the crime your detectives arrested him for,” she wrote.

Constant will run the district attorney’s office once incumbent Thomas Spota’s resignation is effective. Spota is leaving the office after being indicted last week on federal obstruction of justice charges.

Assistant Police Commissioner Justin Meyers said detectives relied on a narcotics prosecutor to guide them on getting the warrant and making the arrest. He said Spota’s office had the charge dismissed without consulting the narcotics prosecutor.

But Constant said narcotics prosecutor was consulted.

Then Raymond Perini, Sini’s Republican opponent in the election, weighed in.

“In light of the fake fentanyl case, Commissioner Sini should resign immediately and I am calling on the United States Attorney to come in here, seize all the phone records and emails before they are destroyed and get to the bottom of this mess,” Perini said.

He said Sini “held a press conference holding up pictures, accusing people of crimes he knew they had not committed.”

Meyers brushed off Perini’s statement.

“This is a law enforcement issue,” Meyers said. “I’m not going to comment about some two-bit politician trying to get into a law enforcement story.”

Meyers, like Gigante, said the case dismissal put Suffolk residents at risk.

“Make no mistake about it, if the Suffolk County Police Department had not executed this search warrant and arrested these individuals under the guidance of the DA’s office, people would have died,” Meyers said.

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