Even before federal indictments were handed down against District Attorney Thomas Spota and a top aide, Tim Sini laid out a dark picture of the office he hopes to run.
Campaigning at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road Station, he said the district attorney’s office had launched political attacks and given special treatment to well connected defense attorneys who hosted parties on an assistant district attorney’s partyboat.
“We’re not going to be a dumping ground for political slights. We’re going to be a professional office,” Sini said several days before federal prosecutors charged Spota and a top aide with felony obstruction of justice.
“That’s going to be a big change in Suffolk County, taking the office truly out of politics,” Sini in an interview. “The office has been involved in politics for decades.”
Voters on Tuesday will choose the first new Suffolk district attorney in 16 years, and Sini, a Democrat, is battling Republican Ray Perini for the job.
Spota, a Democrat who was first elected in 2001, announced he would resign after federal prosecutors charged him and Assistant District Attorney Christopher McPartland with involvement in a cover-up of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s assault of a suspect in 2012. Spota and McPartland have pleaded not guilty.
Sini, the Suffolk County Police commissioner and a former federal prosecutor, said if elected he’ll make sweeping changes in the district attorney’s office, assessing current prosecutors and investigators and bringing in new talent.
Others say Sini, 37, with 18 months as police commissioner, 4 1/2 years as a federal prosecutor and a year as a midlevel deputy in Bellone’s office, lacks the experience to serve as DA.
“His rise is all political,” Perini said. Perini said Sini’s advancement is the “creation” first of Suffolk Democratic Party Chairman Richard Schaffer, and later County Executive Steve Bellone.
Sini grew up and graduated from high school in West Islip. He attended American University in Washington, D.C., graduating magna cum laude in 2002. He earned a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, finishing eighth in his class of 492 students.
In 2006, Sini married Amanda, a midwife whom he had dated on and off since he was a teenager. They live in Babylon with their three children.
Sini worked as an attorney for corporate law firms in Manhattan and clerked for two federal judges before getting a federal prosecutor’s job in Manhattan in March 2010.
Wayne Horsley, a state parks commissioner and former presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature whose son lived across the street from Sini, recalled meeting Sini in 2014.
“I was impressed by him and his earnestness,” Horsley said.
Horsley said Sini was putting in a lot of hours in the city, and wanted to work closer to home. Horsley arranged for him to meet Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer.
Schaffer met in his North Babylon Law office with Sini and Horsley for an hour and a half, and recalled telling Sini at the end, “Wow, you could be a future DA candidate. Then it was off to the races.”
Bellone hired Sini as an assistant deputy county executive for public safety in August 2014 to oversee issues including the opioid crisis and alternative sentencing programs to reduce the county jail population.
Sini soon launched a campaign for county legislature in the 14th district, knocking on 3,000 doors in the town, only to lose to incumbent Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the legislature’s minority leader.
Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Family & Children’s Association, a Mineola-based nonprofit that provides drug treatment programs, was pushing to equip more police with the anti-overdose drug naloxone. Reynolds also sought wider distribution of the drug vivitrol, which blocks an opioid high to inmates about to be released from county jails.
“He had done his homework and knew a lot about topic before we ever walked into room,” Reynolds said of his first meeting with Sini.
In October 2015, Burke offered Bellone his resignation after federal authorities reactivated their probe into the beating of a suspect who stole the chief’s duffel bag. Burke eventually pleaded guilty to beating the suspect and orchestrating a cover-up, and is now in federal prison.
Police Commissioner Edward Webber retired soon afterward, and Bellone nominated Sini to replace him.
During his confirmation hearing at the county legislature, McCaffrey expressed concern that Sini would use the commissioner’s position as a springboard to become district attorney.
“I have no intention of running for district attorney,” Sini replied. “I think the DA is up in 2017. And I’m not running for district attorney in 2017.”
“As the record shows, I was concerned about him using this as a steppingstone to run for district attorney, and that is what happened,” McCaffrey said recently.
Sini said he reversed his position after learning as police commissioner about how the district attorney’s office operated.
“I had the benefit of being on the inside. Allegation became fact. Theory became reality,” Sini said, though he would not get into specifics.
The office “let politics and their own personal agenda affect the way they do cases,” Sini said. “And that’s a really terrible thing for criminal justice.”
As commissioner, Sini sought to rebuild the department’s relationship with federal law enforcement, which had withered under Burke. Sini got a pair of detectives back on the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force. He also invited the FBI back into the yearslong investigation into the multiple sets of human remains found at Gilgo Beach.
Sini said he also has spent time on the multiple killings attributed to the MS-13 street gang, including the September 2016 murders of two teenage girls in Brentwood.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he began working with Sini on the gang issue after the killings in April of four young men in Central Islip, and they now talk and text on a regular basis.
“I find him extremely helpful,” King said. He credited a presentation Sini gave to federal officials for Suffolk County law enforcement receiving a $500,000 federal grant for equipment.
King noted that Sini attended a meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Suffolk in April and President Donald Trump’s visit in July.
“He doesn’t let party politics get in the way of getting the job done,” King said of Sini. “Everything he has told me is accurate. No grandstanding, no exaggerating, no playing it cute. He’s thoroughly professional.”
But some county lawmakers have criticized Sini for his aggressive schedule of news conferences, on issues ranging from drug arrests to Halloween safety.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) referred to a Sini campaign mailer that declared him “The man who took MS-13 down,” citing a statement one of the hosts of Fox & Friends.
Trotta noted that gang violence has continued.
“The facts don’t matter,” said Trotta. “He’s trying to build this media perception of himself, and the reality just isn’t true.”
Sini admitted in an interview that more work remains to combat MS-13.
Sini said he was comfortable with the mailer.
“We’re putting an unprecedented amount of pressure on MS-13. People know that’s part of my record,” he said. “ There’s more work that needs to be done and we’re going to accomplish our mission.”
Education/Career: Sini, of Babylon, also has the Independence, Conservative and Working Families Party lines. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn Law School. Sini is Suffolk County Police commissioner. He served as assistant deputy Suffolk County executive for public safety under County Executive Steve Bellone and was a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan for four and a half years. He is married with three children.