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Steve Bellone seeks ethics probe of prosecutor’s boat rentals

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone addresses the media

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone addresses the media Thursday, May 12, 2016 in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has asked the county Board of Ethics to investigate Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti for renting his boat to criminal defense lawyers who allegedly represented defendants in criminal cases Prudenti prosecuted or supervised.

Bellone in a letter obtained by Newsday wrote to the executive director of the ethics panel that the rentals “would seem an obvious and apparent violation of numerous sections of the County’s Code of Ethics that was in effect at the time of the conduct.”

The complaint, dated Monday, cites two Newsday articles, published May 22 and April 25, in which defense attorneys said they paid $1,500 to $5,000 to rent Prudenti’s 47-foot Christina Marie, sometimes for trips where the boat didn’t leave the dock. Defense attorneys also recalled summer parties with lobster, wine and beer attended by top prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota, said Tuesday that the office was unaware of Bellone’s complaint and did not comment further.

Prudenti, a bureau chief and 30-year veteran of the Suffolk district attorney’s office, did not respond to requests for comment through Clifford.

Previously, Clifford told Newsday that before 2010 Prudenti chartered his boat, sometimes to attorneys, and served as captain. Those on board covered operating costs, including for bait and fuel. Prudenti also hosted summer gatherings on the boat which remained docked during the parties, and members of the defense bar shared the costs of food and beverages, Clifford said.

Clifford wrote the summer parties were, “no different than the many other social events that take place every year.”

The letter is the latest salvo by Bellone against Spota and his office. Earlier this month, Bellone called for Spota to resign. Bellone cited Newsday stories detailing how the office failed to investigate alleged criminal wrongdoing uncovered on wiretaps.

Spota said he had done nothing wrong, and that Bellone had a vendetta because of prosecutions of his political allies.

Bellone’s letter cites a section of the county’s ethics code that says no county employee shall, “engage in, solicit, negotiate or promise to accept private employment or render services for private interests which employment or service creates or might reasonably tend to create a conflict or impair the proper discharge of his official duties.” The letter also cites a section prohibiting conduct that gives “reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties.”

Anyone guilty of violating the ethics code faces forfeiture of pay, suspension, or removal from the job as well as up to a year in jail, according to the letter.

Bellone also requested all financial disclosure statements submitted by Prudenti be reviewed to see whether his outside business interests were disclosed.

Calls to Board of Ethics executive director Samantha Segal were referred to general counsel John Gross, an attorney for Hauppauge-based law firm Ingerman Smith. Gross declined to comment.

A spokesman for Bellone declined to comment.

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