Nassau Republicans have asked District Attorney Kathleen Rice to investigate whether the county's nine Democratic lawmakers committed a crime by demanding an independent redrawing of legislative lines in exchange for allowing the county to borrow millions of dollars for tax refunds.
"The proposition of an illegal quid pro quo, where government operations are being held hostage in return for something of political advantage . . . is criminal conduct," County Attorney John Ciampoli said Thursday.
Democratic spokesman Mike Florio dismissed the investigation as "a desperate attempt" to deflect attention from County Executive Edward Mangano's management of the budget. "This represents a rogue administration attempting to criminalize the legislative process and engage in political prosecutions which have no place in American democracy," he said.
At a news conference, Ciampoli said the legislators' demand for "fair, nonpartisan redistricting," contained in a Dec. 15, 2011, letter to Mangano, constitutes third-degree bribery, coercion, official misconduct and obstruction of government administration, each punishable by at least 1 year in prison.
Ciampoli bases the argument on the fact that Democrats will benefit politically -- and monetarily by keeping their salaries -- if they maintain all their seats through redistricting, which in Nassau is controlled by the GOP. To justify a criminal charge, there must be a monetary, personal or political benefit to the lawmakers, Ciampoli said, adding that he was not aware of any legal precedent for the case.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called it an "interesting" stance. "But if the DA were asked to investigate every time a politician or party tried to use its leverage to get what it wants, you wouldn't have an assistant DA left to handle real crimes."
Ciampoli first asked the state inspector general to probe the claims. But the office said it lacked jurisdiction and referred the case to the district attorney. John Byrne, spokesman for Rice, a Democrat, said the office is "reviewing the allegations," but otherwise declined to comment.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) declined to comment Thursday. In an interview last week, he said, "We get nothing favorable in return for nonpartisan redistricting."Democrats have asked Rice to investigate alleged impropriety by Mangano administration officials. Two cases were closed without filing of charges and two others remain open.
Mangano, a Republican, who declined to comment Thursday, wants lawmakers to authorize $140 million in borrowing for tax refund settlements and judgments. A supermajority of the legislature, including at least three Democrats, is needed to approve borrowing.A tentative vote on the bonding is scheduled for May 7.
In the Dec. 15 letter, Democrats said, "Until there is a fair, nonpartisan redistricting there will be no bonding." Last year, the Court of Appeals blocked a Republican plan to redraw the districts.