Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his run for...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his run for governor. (March 8, 2010) Credit: Steve Jacobs

Several Suffolk legislators will file a proposal Wednesday to ban felons from doing county title work after it was disclosed County Executive Steve Levy recommended a longtime friend be hired despite legal woes.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he will add the felony ban to a proposal he was already drafting to create a system to rotate title work fairly among vendors after disclosures a week ago that those who donated $200,000 to Levy got $7 million in such work. Details of the proposal are not yet public.

While Levy first said he played no role in giving out title work, he acknowledged Monday he had recommended Suburban Abstract LLC be hired because he'd been impressed by its work.

From 2005 to early 2009, Suburban was paid $85,714 in title work. Most recent business records show Levy friend Ethan Ellner was the firm's president and he was owner of the company from 2007 to 2009, according to the Suffolk district attorney's office. Before 2007, records are unclear on Ellner's post.

Ellner's firm got the work despite his October 1997 guilty plea on tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to 1 month in prison and 3 years' supervised release, as well as a $5,000 fine, court records show. He had a two-year suspension as an attorney over the case. In 1992, he had been cited by county consumer officials for "unconscionable trade practices" in connection with a mortgage fraud in Medford.

Ellner was arrested in 2009 as part of a massive $82-million mortgage fraud in which a former county legislator and others were charged. Ellner pleaded guilty late last year.

"The latest revelations scream out for more reform," said Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who met with Kennedy and said he he'll support the GOP lawmaker's proposal rather than file his own measure. Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is a co-sponsor of Kennedy's proposal.

Levy, meanwhile, countered, "I stand by my earlier remarks that I do not confer on these picks with limited exceptions where I personally knew the quality of their work."

"Why stop at rotating title work?" Levy said. "We should have my type of comprehensive reform that bans donations of vendors, municipal unions and political action committees, which, ironically, was opposed by Kennedy himself."

Jay Jacobs, state Democratic chairman, lambasted Levy in a news conference for acting "holier than thou" while engaging in "one of the worst pay to play[s] I've ever seen," adding "it's the hypocrisy that makes it worse."

"Steve Levy has become an embarrassment," Barney Keller, spokesman for Levy gubernatorial rival Rick Lazio said, adding he should "go back to being a Democrat." Mike Caputo, a spokesman for third GOP contender Carl Paladino, said, Levy's actions "smell a lot like Albany."

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