Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas is fighting an arbitrator’s order to reinstate an investigator she fired for alleged interference with an Oyster Bay corruption probe, accusing him of tipping off at least one target of the investigation about a wiretap.
State Supreme Court Justice Randy Sue Marber heard arguments Monday in Mineola as prosecutors sought to quash the July order stemming from a union’s successful challenge to the June 2017 firing of its president, Special Investigator Michael Falzarano.
The veteran investigator, a former NYPD lieutenant, lost his job on the same day former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and six others with ties to the municipality pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.
Arbitrator John E. Sands previously ruled for Falzarano, saying Singas’ office “brought these disciplinary charges based on wiretap evidence that improperly disclosed the existence of eavesdropping warrants and sealed court records,” and broke the law.
Singas later called the arbitrator’s finding “really unconscionable.”
“Accusing the District Attorney of violating the law is a serious accusation. We’re going to fight back hard against it because it is absolutely false,” Singas said in an interview. “We alleged that this investigator disclosed the investigation to its targets, and in the course of this decision, he has to be reinstated and I’m accused of breaking the law? So we’re not going to stand for that."
Sands’ decision said other investigators for Singas “intercepted communications from targets of eavesdropping warrants that, rightly or wrongly, led them to believe that Falzarano was guilty of the criminal offense of Divulging an Eavesdropping Warrant.”
Prosecutors then sought judicial approval to amend a warrant to include Falzarano’s cellphone and got his cellphone records “via grand jury subpoena,” Sands wrote.
But the arbitrator said while Singas’ office accused Falzarano of “criminal offenses” in the labor proceeding, a grand jury didn’t indict him.
Sands wrote that meant that either prosecutors didn’t seek Falzarano’s indictment due to insufficient evidence, or a grand jury voted not to indict him.
The arbitrator concluded the district attorney’s office, “which could have indicted and suspended” Falzarano, instead fired him and brought disciplinary charges in a way that broke the law.
But prosecutor Hilda Mortensen told the judge Monday that Sands’ decision “must be overturned.”
In court papers, the district attorney's office argued Falzarano wasn’t fired until the probe was over, and wiretap notices already had been provided “to charged defendants and other intercepted parties.”
By the time administrative charges were filed, “the eavesdropping warrant was no longer a secret,” having been discussed in open court and referenced in Newsday, the DA's office also wrote.
But Falzarano’s Islandia attorney, David Davis, told the judge Monday that no charges had been proved and the Nassau County Investigators Police Benevolent Association has a contract that provides for binding arbitration.
He added: “We don’t think there’s any basis to vacate this award, as repugnant as the county might find it.”
The district attorney’s office had alleged in one charge Falzarano told an unnamed “target” about an investigation involving wiretaps. But Sands dismissed that administrative charge, along with one alleging Falzarano was seen twice in a hallway where only investigators assigned to the wiretap probe were allowed to be.
The arbitrator hasn’t ruled on a third charge that Falzarano allegedly violated a directive by being near a special grand jury and a witness, or on a fourth charge accusing him of trying to get information from other investigators. But Sands said those charges wouldn’t warrant termination, if sustained.
“It’s inappropriate for me to respond to criticism,” Sands said in an interview Monday. “The decision is the decision. It speaks for itself.”