Ray Perini, the Republican candidate for Suffolk County district attorney, walked door to door in heavily Republican Lindenhurst earlier this month repeating the same mantra at every home to rally voters to his cause.
“I’m the one with experience,” Perini told voters answering the door. Referring to Democratic candidate Tim Sini, he said: “My opponent has four years as a prosecutor — I have 44 years experience.”
Perini touts his 17-year career as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn and Suffolk DA’s offices, and 27 years as a criminal defense attorney.
At some houses, Perini took a swipe at Sini, saying the Suffolk police commissioner and former assistant U.S. attorney, “has never tried a case in state court.”
Perini, who four years ago waged a Republican primary against Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota — who had all major and minor party endorsements — also takes credit for forcing an end to cross-endorsement deals among party leaders that he says denied voters a choice in electing a district attorney since 2001.
In light of Spota’s indictment last week on federal obstruction of justice charges, Perini called the effort even more important. “This is basically a historic election because . . . people will finally get to pick the next district attorney,” he said. Spota, a Democrat, has pleaded not guilty.
Perini, 70, of Huntington, concedes he is the “underdog” in the race against Sini, 37, who in his job as police commissioner for the last 18 months has been able to command news media attention daily.
Sini’s campaign has raised far more money, and he has the endorsement of the Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties in his bid for the $203,245-a-year district attorney’s job.
Perini paints Sini as the choice of political bosses and County Executive Steve Bellone — Sini’s Babylon neighbor — who Perini said hand-picked Sini for commissioner without a national or local search.
Perini also said Sini lied to lawmakers to win confirmation as police commissioner by saying he would not run for DA and has inflated his credentials to fuel his political ambitions. “He’s not a crusader, he’s a liar,” he said.
Sini has returned fire, attacking Perini’s “moral compass” for renting a partyboat from an assistant county prosecutor, John Scott Prudenti, nephew of late Suffolk GOP chairman Anthony Prudenti.
Sini also cited a 1989 State Investigation Commission report that found Perini “irresponsible and grossly unprofessional” in condoning illegal wiretaps and other abuses.
Perini said the boat rental posed no ethical problems, and the SIC finding was based on false testimony of a rogue cop. A special prosecutor later said illegal wiretaps occurred on Perini’s watch, but found no evidence to corroborate that Perini knew of the activity.
But John Flynn, Suffolk Conservative first vice chairman, said the boat rental and SIC report “were an issue for everyone” this spring when Perini screened for the party’s nomination.
“The DA’s office needs a change from top to bottom and Ray was part of the culture that was there,” said Flynn, arguing that candidates only complain about cross-endorsements when they don’t get them. “To me its sour grapes.”
Perini said he first “tested the waters” for district attorney in the 1990s when it was unclear if then-Republican District Attorney James M. Catterson would seek a third term. Four four years ago, Perini decided to run and tried to block Spota’s candidacy for a record fourth term, saying he was barred from running under the county’s 12 year term limit law.
The state highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled the county law did not apply to district attorneys because the office is in the state constitution. Perini pursued a GOP primary, but Spota won, giving him both major party lines and a lock on re-election.
A year later, Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle changed party rules to bar GOP candidates from accepting Democratic backing, except in judicial races. While LaValle did not embrace Perini’s candidacy initially, the 10 Suffolk GOP town leaders backed Perini.
While says he is satisfied LaValle is fully behind him, he understands why party leaders might be wary.
“At this point in my career, not owing any political favors . . . I become the one player that is uncontrollable,” Perini said. “I’m not sure any countywide leader wants someone like that.”
Born in Corona Queens and raised in Flushing, Perini graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School with training to become a surveyor. Perini wanted to get a job, but his father, a chef and union business agent, pressed him to enter college.
Perini got a partial scholarship to Kansas Wesleyan University and took out loans to finish, becoming his family’s first college graduate. Perini worked for a year at an insurance company to raise money to start Brooklyn Law School, and kept working to pay tuition.
Perini’s grandfather, a butcher, was not thrilled with the career choice: “He told me he’d rather be a mouse in the mouth of a cat than a client in the hands of a lawyer,” Perini recalled.
Perini acknowledged he initially had some difficulties at Brooklyn Law because he focused on criminal law and had little interest in first year business-related courses.
“It took me three years to get my grades up, because I didn’t have any interest in contracts or property,” Perini said. In his entire career, Perini said, “I’ve never done a closing.” Perini said he graduated 36th in a class of 410.
After graduation, Perini applied to work in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. “I had no political hook, I didn’t know any politicians,” Perini recalled. “I got in because of my grades and because I was an Eagle Scout. My whole interview was about scouting and my merit badges.”
The office, said Perini, was a crash course in criminal law because it handled 600 murders a year. “You ride with homicide one a week and on a Saturday night it would not be unusual for you to catch two or three murders,” he said.
Perini said that within two years, he was working in the narcotics office, gaining experience with wiretaps and handling defendants who agreed to cooperate. He said the new Rockefeller drug laws, which mandated minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possession of four ounces of narcotics, forced many cases to trial. “You got a lot of trial experience quickly,” he said.
Perini and his wife, Carole, a dentist, moved to Huntington and he commuted daily to Brooklyn. Perini said he was recruited to the Suffolk district attorney’s office to help form a new created narcotics unit. His boss was Suffolk’s first Democratic district attorney, Henry O’Brien.
During his 13-1/2 year tenure, what started as a narcotics unit because a full-fledged bureau that with included 12 full-time prosecutors.
One of Perini’s most significant cases involved a trawler stopped off Long Island Sound with six Colombians and 40,000 pounds of marijuana aboard. The drugs were unloaded into rubber boats, with 11 organized crime figures waiting to pick them up. Perini said he personally prosecuted five of the suspects.
Retired Suffolk police detective Paul Marquardt said Perini was a “team player” who worked well with state and federal investigators and shared information.
Marquardt said Perini taught him how to carefully “to document everything so we not only won at trial but got everyone to end up pleading out.” Once, when staking out suspects from a deli, Perini advised Marquardt to eat a sandwich to be less conspicuous.
As a private defense attorney in the succeeding years, Perini handled hundreds of cases in state court and numerous federal cases.
Now, he’s in his first hurrah as a GOP party nominee — and he says the race will be his last if he loses.
“I’m at a perfect time to straighten out the office,” said Perini. “If I don’t get there this time, I know I wouldn’t’ run again.”