Suffolk County district attorney candidates Timothy Sini and Ray Perini attacked each other’s ethics and fitness to be the county’s top prosecutor Thursday night in the first debate for the office held in the past 16 years.
A former prosecutor and defense attorney, Perini, 70, of Huntington, questioned the experience of Suffolk Police Commissioner Sini, 37, of Babylon.
“His resume’s kind of like a cloud. You poke it, then there’s nothing there,” Perini said at the Suffolk Criminal Bar Association hosted event in the Irish Coffee Pub in East Islip. “Four years as a federal prosecutor is what he brings to the table.”
Sini said he had reformed the Suffolk County Police Department in the wake of former Police Chief of Department James Burke’s conviction for beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover-up, raising morale, reducing crime rates and restoring integrity to the office.
Both candidates said they would restore integrity to the district attorney’s office, which incumbent Thomas Spota has held for 16 years.
Sini, a Democrat, attacked Perini, a Republican, for renting an assistant district attorney’s boat for a party as a defense attorney and being named “more than 100 times” in a 1989 State Investigation Commission report that said Perini was aware of illegal wiretaps as head of the county’s narcotics office.
“I seriously question his moral compass,” Sini said.
Perini said, “He hasn’t had a job long enough to work through a problem.”
Perini said after the 1989 investigation, a later report found he had done nothing wrong.
He also said there was “nothing nefarious about the boat case. Newsday liked it, but there’s nothing nefarious.” He said many defense attorneys, the district attorney himself, secretaries and children were on the boat, which never left the dock.
Sini said Perini “sounded like my 7-year-old” in saying he shouldn’t be punished because others were on the boat.
Spota announced this year he would not seek a fifth term. Federal investigators are probing whether Spota and one of his chief assistants took part in the cover-up of the assault on a man who stole a duffel bag from Burke’s SUV, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Spota has not been charged with a crime and has said he has done nothing wrong.
The office has been criticized recently for a series of cases in which prosecutors and police have not turned over evidence to defense attorneys.
Both candidates rejected the idea of bringing in an outside group such as the Innocence Project to review cases for possible violations, but both said they would form integrity units in their offices.
Sini drew some boos from the packed room when he attacked Perini for his work as a defense attorney.
“I have not made several millions of dollars defending criminals,” he said.
Perini, who has an Islandia law firm after a 14-year career as a prosecutor, said defense attorneys kept the system in check. “I’m proud of the way I’ve done it,” he said.