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Bill to track asset forfeiture money dies in Suffolk committee

The Suffolk Legislature’s Public Safety Committee effectively killed a bill Thursday that would have given it oversight over money seized by county law enforcement agencies after opposition surfaced from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and incoming District Attorney Timothy Sini.

Bill sponsor Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), the deputy presiding officer, made a motion to table the bill and said he would submit a new measure next year.

“I’m not somebody looking to create havoc, make things that are unworkable,” Calarco said.

Disclosure that the Suffolk District Attorney’s office paid $3.25 million in bonuses since 2012 using asset forfeiture funds spurred Calarco’s bill.

No one from the police department or county executive’s office spoke against the bill. But lawmakers said Bellone, Sini and members of some law enforcement unions had lobbied against the bill during the past week.

Legislators said Bellone, Sini and members of law enforcement unions argued during the past week that legislative approval for spending is unnecessary with former District Attorney Thomas Spota out of office.

Spota left office in October after his indictment on federal charges of obstructing an investigation into former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s assault of a suspect in 2012. Spota has pleaded not guilty.

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said, “It’s a little upsetting that Calarco has had this out there, and you wait for the night before the vote, or a couple days before, to start lobbying against it.”

Calarco said he was committed to having the legislature provide oversight of millions of dollars in asset forfeiture funds spent by Suffolk police, the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the probation department.

Calarco said besides bonuses, asset forfeiture funds are spent on training and equipment, although the spending never has been detailed.

“The problem is we don’t even know. And when we’ve asked for it, we haven’t gotten it,” Calarco said.

Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said Thursday he did not oppose the bill, and that he supported more transparency with how asset forfeiture funds are used.

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