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Nassau DA Rice questioned on criminal charges in Dale case

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, left, and Nassau

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, left, and Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale attend a forum at Adelphi University for school officials and others on dealing with 'active shooter' situations on Jan. 7, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs Wednesday questioned why District Attorney Kathleen Rice has not filed criminal charges of witness tampering or election law violations against former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale and other people involved with the campaigns of County Executive Edward Mangano and former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick.

In an 11-page letter to fellow Democrat Rice and other officials, Jacobs suggests Rice should have appointed a special prosecutor or asked another county district attorney to handle the investigation because the individuals involved, including Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius, are "well known to her" and her chief investigator, Chuck Ribando.

Jacobs noted that Rice recently won re-election with the support of the Nassau Independence Party, whose chairman, Rick Bellando, is Melius' catering manager at the Huntington hotel and catering hall. Jacobs said Republican Mangano, his chief deputy, Rob Walker, Dale, Ribando and Hardwick have regularly attended "private . . . dinners and cigar parties hosted by Melius."

Jacobs said in an interview, "Something is very wrong here in Nassau County. And people in authority need to pay attention. This is pervasive, continuous and malignant. It transcends party. The election is over. We lost. I sat patiently through the campaign and was assured justice will be done. Now I see it wasn't."

Rice spokesman Shams Tarek responded, "The politically motivated accusations concerning this ongoing investigation are full of assumptions, false assertions and misleading characterizations . . . This is an ongoing case, and while anyone can distort before investigations are complete, prosecutors follow the facts and act on the law, not politics.

"The DA has successfully prosecuted people associated with all major political parties and to suggest that there's a conflict of interest in this case is wholly inconsistent with the facts and completely reckless," Tarek said.

The letter and response signal a rare intraparty conflict between the Democratic chairman and his top county elected official. Rice was the only Democrat to win countywide office in November, serves on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's anti-corruption commission and is considered a possible future candidate for the U.S. House.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin called Jacobs' letter "cheap, partisan politics," noting that Rice has said her investigation of the White matter has "uncovered nothing to suggest" that Mangano or administration members were involved.

Melius said, "I know a lot of people. Among them are Jay Jacobs and [former County Executive] Tom Suozzi," saying he had hosted parties for them in the past.

Events leading to Dale's forced resignation last week began to unfold when Randy White, 29, of Roosevelt, testified in a lawsuit in October that Hardwick paid him for each signature collected for Hardwick's failed county executive campaign. Petitioners legally can be paid per hour, but not per signature. Hardwick, whose sole contributor was Melius, denied White's claim.

Democrats successfully challenged the validity of Hardwick's petitions and alleged that his attempt to run as a third-party candidate was intended to siphon votes from Democrat Suozzi, who ran unsuccessfully against Mangano this year.

Days after White's testimony, Nassau police pulled White off a public bus to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for not paying a $250 court fine. An off-duty county police sergeant, Sal Mistretta, arrived at a facility where White was in police custody, and White was served with a subpoena drafted by Hardwick's lawyer, Rice said. She still is investigating the subpoena.

Dale resigned after Rice reported that he intervened in the case after Melius called him, saying the Hardwick campaign wanted to file a perjury charge against White.

Rice said in a four-page letter to Mangano that she found no criminal wrongdoing. Jacobs, in his letter, quotes state law defining witness intimidation as compelling a person to refrain from communicating knowledge of a criminal transaction to the court or other investigators by instilling fear of physical injury.

"This was witness intimidation through the unlawful use of the Nassau County Police Department, plain and simple, and should have been prosecuted," Jacobs said.

He noted that state election law says that "a police commissioner or any officer or member of any police force in this state" who uses their authority to affect any political party, action or affiliation is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Current and incoming Democratic county legislators this week asked for a federal investigation.

Jacobs also said there is a "direct connection" between the incident and Mangano. He cited a solicitation for an Oct. 28 Mangano campaign fundraiser that advised donors to contact Mistretta and Brandon Irizarry, who Jacobs said worked for Hardwick's campaign and gave Mistretta the subpoena.

Nevin did not respond to questions about the solicitation. Mistretta acknowledged receiving "a piece of paper" from Irizarry, but didn't realize it was a subpoena. Hardwick declined to comment.

Mistretta's lawyer, Robert La Reddola, said Jay "Jacobs is connecting dots that don't exist."

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