Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has awarded almost $2.7 million in bonuses to prosecutors since 2012 without approval from county legislators, according to county records provided by County Executive Steve Bellone’s office.
Payments to 82 assistant district attorneys in 2016 totaled more than $500,000, with individual raises ranging from $2,500 to $20,000, according to county comptroller records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.
In March, Spota gave another $364,500 in bonuses to 33 employees.
The money came from a state asset forfeiture fund that in Suffolk is controlled by Spota.
Records provided by the Bellone administration show the district attorney’s office has made bonus payments since 2012. The Wall Street Journal first reported the bonuses on Friday.
Bellone has battled with Spota openly since 2016, when he accused Spota of running a “criminal enterprise” and called on him to resign. Spota has said Bellone had a vendetta against him for prosecuting administration allies. Spota is not running for re-election in November.
District attorney Division Chief Edward Heilig said in an interview that expenditures from the asset forfeiture fund don’t need legislative approval because they come from seized property.
Heilig said the bonus payments started in April 2012 as police unions and Bellone’s office negotiated new police contracts that Heilig said were expected to include “exorbitant” pay increases.
“There was a big morale problem in the district attorney’s office. We were trying to get [assistant district attorneys] some kind of pay equal to that of police officers that they work with on a day-to-day basis,” Heilig said.
Heilig said the district attorney raises, which are all approved by Spota, were based on merit and that many went to prosecutors who are on call and work more than the 35 hours a week the county requires. As nonunion employees, they are not eligible for overtime.
But records show that the top bonuses since 2016 went to Spota’s senior deputies.
Heilig, Chief Deputy Emily Constant and Christopher McPartland, Spota’s top corruption prosecutor, each have received bonuses totaling $37,500 since 2016.
Newsday has reported that McPartland is under federal investigation for possible obstruction of justice as an outgrowth of the case against former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke. Burke is serving a federal prison sentence for beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover-up inside the police department.
Bureau Chief John Scott Prudenti has received $15,500 and $12,000 in 2017.
Bellone has criticized Prudenti for renting out his partyboat to defense attorneys with cases before the district attorney’s office. The district attorney’s office said the rentals stopped in 2010, and that there was nothing inappropriate about them.
Bellone administration officials called all the bonuses “unauthorized” because they did not get legislative approval.
Until 2016, the district attorney’s office had reimbursed the county for the bonuses with asset forfeiture funds.
Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said the county has not been reimbursed for 2016 and 2017 bonuses, leaving “taxpayers on the hook for nearly $1 million dollars.”
Heilig said the district attorney’s office has attempted to pay back the county using asset forfeiture funds, but Suffolk has not yet approved the payments.
Elan responded, “Whether or not asset forfeiture funds are used for reimbursements is irrelevant until the issue of paying unauthorized bonuses is resolved.”
Bellone did not respond to requests for comment.
Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) wrote Friday to Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. asking for a list of bonus payments made to prosecutors since 2010, how they were funded and the county’s policies and procedures.
Lindsay said the bonuses raise the issue of whether prosecutors could be seizing assets for personal financial gain.
“It raises serious concerns,” he said.
DA STAFF BONUSES GRANTED BY YEAR
Source: Suffolk County executive’s office