Democratic Suffolk district attorney candidate Timothy Sini said Tuesday that if elected he would not pay staff bonuses from a seized property fund while Republican Ray Perini said he would have to study the issue further.
Records show the district attorney’s office has paid $2.7 million in bonuses to top attorneys since 2012 from a state fund of assets seized in criminal investigations.
Sini, the Suffolk police commissioner, said in a statement responding to a Newsday question: “As District Attorney, I will not use asset forfeiture to pay bonuses to employees. Rather, I will use asset forfeiture to enhance public safety for all the residents of Suffolk County and in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations.”
Perini, a former Suffolk prosecutor, said he’d first have to determine if the payments were legal, and if there was a process in place to determine the raises.
“Right now, I don’t think it’s being done in a way that’s transparent,” Perini said in an interview.
District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office has defended the payments as based on merit and additional work responsibilities, and as a response to escalating police salaries.
The asset forfeiture fund also has been used to fund police overtime and to provide $1.5 million for the East End emergency radio system, DA’s spokesman Robert Clifford said. Neither expenditure required approval by the county legislature or the county executive, Clifford said.
The payments to district attorney staffers came from the county’s general fund, and were reimbursed with asset forfeiture money controlled by Spota.
The county comptroller’s office accepted two final payments from the asset forfeiture fund on Friday, according to records provided by County Executive Steve Bellone’s office.
“The secret bonus payments made by the District Attorney’s office raise serious questions that must be answered,” county spokesman Jason Elan said in a statement. He declined to elaborate.
A letter from Legis. William Lindsey III (D-Bohemia) and Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) asked county Comptroller John Kennedy to explain the payments and their legal authority.
Elan said Bellone would be “following up directly with the comptroller’s office to inquire about the legal basis for these payments this week as well.”
Bellone and County Comptroller John Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment.