Suffolk County PBA President Noel DiGerolamo.

Suffolk County PBA President Noel DiGerolamo. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk’s largest police union is suing the county in federal court, alleging its Board of Ethics violated state election law and the constitutional rights of its members when it barred the police benevolent association from donating to the district attorney’s campaign. 

The lawsuit was filed after the campaign committee for District Attorney Ray Tierney rejected a $5,000 check from the PBA in July because of the opinion issued by the Board of Ethics on Oct. 6, 2021. The Board of Ethics had ruled that campaign donations from a police union or its political action committees to a district attorney is improper due to the close relationship between prosecutors and police officers, the lawsuit alleges. 

“We will take all actions necessary and appropriate to ensure our right to participate in the electoral process is not abridged by a faulty opinion by the Board of Ethics,” PBA president Noel DiGerolamo told Newsday on Wednesday. 

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 28 in the Eastern District of New York, names Suffolk County, the Board of Ethics and its chairman Eric A. Kopp and Suffolk Legis. Rob Trotta — a former Suffolk police officer who has become a vocal critic of the union — as defendants.

According to court papers, Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) asked the Board of Ethics in May 2021 for an opinion on whether it was proper for a district attorney to accept campaign contributions from the PBA or its political action committee. The board initially said it had no standing to issue such an opinion and referred the matter to the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office, the New York State comptroller and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. 

None of those agencies took action on the referrals, and in September 2021 Trotta again asked the Board of Ethics for an opinion, according to the court papers. This time, according to the lawsuit, the board issued an opinion that said allowing the union or its PAC to donate money to a candidate for district attorney is “inherently problematic” because prosecutors are charged with holding law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. 

Police department officials — and not the district attorney — are responsible for addressing misconduct allegations, according to the lawsuit, which said criminal defense attorneys, who also have close relationships with prosecutors, are not barred from making donations to district attorney candidates. 

Trotta said he welcomed the lawsuit and that its claim that he had asked the Board of Ethics to issue an opinion on the campaign contributions was incorrect. Trotta said he asked the board to determine if he — as an elected official who votes on union contracts and other issues regarding the PBA — could accept money from the organization. 

“The PBA has become expert in squandering the hard-earned money of Suffolk’s dedicated police officers on failed political campaigns and frivolous lawsuits,” Trotta told Newsday.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying she could not discuss pending litigation. An attorney for the Board of Ethics, John Gross, declined to comment. "We just got the papers," Gross said. "We will review them and respond as appropriate."

Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for Tierney said, "We are following the [Board of Ethics] ruling and will continue to do so."

The PBA sent a $5,000 check to Tierney’s campaign in July, according to the lawsuit. 

“The cover letter accompanying this check stated that, despite the SCBOE’s improper determination regarding these types of remittances, the PBA was making a contribution to the District Attorney’s campaign because the Advisory Opinion was ‘both incorrect and beyond the scope of that Board’s authority,’” the lawsuit said. 

Tierney’s campaign returned the check two days later, "thereby rejecting the contribution from Plaintiffs and making effective a factually and legally flawed determination by the SCBOE,” the lawsuit said.

Suffolk’s largest police union is suing the county in federal court, alleging its Board of Ethics violated state election law and the constitutional rights of its members when it barred the police benevolent association from donating to the district attorney’s campaign. 

The lawsuit was filed after the campaign committee for District Attorney Ray Tierney rejected a $5,000 check from the PBA in July because of the opinion issued by the Board of Ethics on Oct. 6, 2021. The Board of Ethics had ruled that campaign donations from a police union or its political action committees to a district attorney is improper due to the close relationship between prosecutors and police officers, the lawsuit alleges. 

“We will take all actions necessary and appropriate to ensure our right to participate in the electoral process is not abridged by a faulty opinion by the Board of Ethics,” PBA president Noel DiGerolamo told Newsday on Wednesday. 

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 28 in the Eastern District of New York, names Suffolk County, the Board of Ethics and its chairman Eric A. Kopp and Suffolk Legis. Rob Trotta — a former Suffolk police officer who has become a vocal critic of the union — as defendants.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Suffolk PBA is suing the county over a $5,000 campaign contribution it made to the political campaign of Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney.
  • The federal lawsuit was filed after the campaign committee for Tierney rejected a $5,000 check from the PBA in July, citing a board of ethics opinion.
  • The Suffolk Board of Ethics had ruled that campaign donations from a police union or its political action committees to a district attorney is improper due to the close relationship between prosecutors and police officers, the lawsuit said.

According to court papers, Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) asked the Board of Ethics in May 2021 for an opinion on whether it was proper for a district attorney to accept campaign contributions from the PBA or its political action committee. The board initially said it had no standing to issue such an opinion and referred the matter to the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office, the New York State comptroller and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. 

None of those agencies took action on the referrals, and in September 2021 Trotta again asked the Board of Ethics for an opinion, according to the court papers. This time, according to the lawsuit, the board issued an opinion that said allowing the union or its PAC to donate money to a candidate for district attorney is “inherently problematic” because prosecutors are charged with holding law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. 

Police department officials — and not the district attorney — are responsible for addressing misconduct allegations, according to the lawsuit, which said criminal defense attorneys, who also have close relationships with prosecutors, are not barred from making donations to district attorney candidates. 

Trotta said he welcomed the lawsuit and that its claim that he had asked the Board of Ethics to issue an opinion on the campaign contributions was incorrect. Trotta said he asked the board to determine if he — as an elected official who votes on union contracts and other issues regarding the PBA — could accept money from the organization. 

“The PBA has become expert in squandering the hard-earned money of Suffolk’s dedicated police officers on failed political campaigns and frivolous lawsuits,” Trotta told Newsday.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying she could not discuss pending litigation. An attorney for the Board of Ethics, John Gross, declined to comment. "We just got the papers," Gross said. "We will review them and respond as appropriate."

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney. Credit: Randee Daddona

Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for Tierney said, "We are following the [Board of Ethics] ruling and will continue to do so."

The PBA sent a $5,000 check to Tierney’s campaign in July, according to the lawsuit. 

“The cover letter accompanying this check stated that, despite the SCBOE’s improper determination regarding these types of remittances, the PBA was making a contribution to the District Attorney’s campaign because the Advisory Opinion was ‘both incorrect and beyond the scope of that Board’s authority,’” the lawsuit said. 

Tierney’s campaign returned the check two days later, "thereby rejecting the contribution from Plaintiffs and making effective a factually and legally flawed determination by the SCBOE,” the lawsuit said.

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