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Ex-Assemb. Thomas J. Culhane, who probed Suffolk cops, dead at 87

Thomas J. Culhane, a former assembyman and member

Thomas J. Culhane, a former assembyman and member of the State Commission of Investigation, died among his family Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, at MJH Hospice in Sheepshead Bay. Credit: Family photo

Former Assemb. Thomas J. Culhane, who rose from the beat in the New York City Police Department to become a detective, lawyer and two-decade member of the state Commission of Investigation that probed alleged Suffolk police wiretapping, has died. He was 87.

Culhane died among his family Wednesday at MJH Hospice in Sheepshead Bay after being in failing health for some time, living in retirement in Breezy Point.

"He worked extremely hard," said his son Terry, retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority deputy chief, of Oakdale. "And his hard work and determination showed his children how to become self-sufficient. He was very proud of that."

Culhane practiced law in Manhattan for more than 50 years, mainly doing medical malpractice and construction injury cases -- in part because his ironworker father once fractured his back in an accident.

"He once said, 'Grandpa brought me up on the iron to show me I had to go to school.' But it also made him understand some people don't have that luxury and they need to be defended when they get hurt," said another son, Tom, a lawyer from the Bronx.

Culhane was elected to two terms in the state Assembly from 1973 to 1977.

A year later, he was named an Assembly representative to the six-member temporary State Commission of Investigation, an independent, bipartisan panel seated to probe organized crime, wrongdoing by public officials and matters dealing with public safety. He served until 1998.

In 1990, Culhane was part of the commission when it issued a scathing report after a two-year probe that condemned Suffolk law enforcement practices in the wake of allegations of illegal wiretapping, perjury and other acts of corruption by county police.

The probe led to the conviction of a former chief of detectives for giving his son preferential treatment in a drug case and removal of a county crime lab deputy who faked his credentials. Police also overhauled wiretapping rules.

Culhane also served on the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Born in the Bronx, Culhane was one of two children. He graduated from St. Joseph's Elementary School, St. Simon Stock High School and Fordham University.

He served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, starting in 1949, and later joined the NYPD, where he was promoted to detective in the 34th Precinct in upper Manhattan. While working as a police officer, Culhane also attended and graduated from Brooklyn Law School at night.

While in law school, he met Leon Segan who would later become his law partner.

Culhane married his grade-school sweetheart Dorothea, with whom he had all his children. One child, John, predeceased them. The couple divorced after 28 years. In 1993, he married Alice Akins, who survives him.

Other survivors include sons Stephen of Island Park and Matthew of Howard Beach; daughters Christine Lichte of Lutz, Florida, Beth Ann Robins of Westchester, Barbara Mullaney of Long Beach, and Karen Marini of Toms River, New Jersey; stepdaughter Debbie Villagio of Brooklyn; brother Daniel of St. Augustine, Florida.; 26 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at St. Thomas More church in Breezy Point at 9:30 a.m. Burial will follow at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla.

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