Suffolk’s top legislative Democrat on Friday declined to back County Executive Steve Bellone’s call for District Attorney Thomas Spota to resign, while a holdout Republican lawmaker likened his caucus’ effort to oust Spota to the action of a “lynch mob.”
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the majority caucus is taking a “more cautious” approach than Bellone, a Democrat who stood on the steps of Spota’s office Thursday and said the Democratic district attorney was running “a criminal enterprise.”
Bellone held his provocative news conference in response to disclosures in Newsday that Spota failed to prosecute possible criminal activity uncovered in wiretaps. Spota has denied wrongdoing, called the report “fundamentally flawed” and said he will not step down.
“I’m of the mindset to trust but verify, not distrust and vilify,” said Gregory.
Spota has said Bellone has a “personal vendetta against me for investigating and prosecuting people he is close to.”
The dispute comes as federal investigators continue a wider probe into allegations and political and law enforcement corruption in Suffolk following the fall of former county police Chief of Department James Burke. Burke was a Bellone appointee and Spota protégé who pleaded guilty to federal charges of beating a burglary suspect and orchestrating a cover up.
Gregory said his legislators “are very concerned and want answers” on the wiretap allegations, and may ask Spota to testify before them or request further independent probes.
Democrats hold a 12-6 legislative majority, but only one member of the caucus — Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) — has called for Spota to step down.
Newsday on Friday reached seven of the eleven other majority members. They said generally that they had serious concerns about the allegations against Spota but that they didn’t have enough information or would wait until outside investigations were completed. All declined to say Spota should resign immediately.
Five GOP legislators members have called for Bellone and Spota to resign.
But Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip) said Friday that “neither the DA nor the county executive has been charged with anything, so what gives other elected individuals the right to call for their resignation?” Barraga said.
“It’s like a lynch mob: they’re not really interested in innocence or guilt, just the strength of the tree branch and thickness of the rope,” said Barraga.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), the most outspoken Republican critic of Bellone and Spota, said he was “bewildered” by Barraga, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and is a major general in the New York Guard.
“Coming from the military, he should know the importance of integrity and honor,” Trotta said.
Bellone’s office did not comment immediately Friday about the lawmakers’ remarks.