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Defense lawyer says Islip bribery case is all about politics

Former Islip Town official John J. Carney arrives

Former Islip Town official John J. Carney arrives for the first day of his bribery trial at state Supreme Court in Central Islip on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

The lead prosecutor attempting to prove coercion and bribery charges against a former Islip Town official said in his opening statement Tuesday morning that the case was all about “power.”

Kevin Ward, an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, said at the start of the trial against John J. Carney in state Supreme Court in Central Islip that evidence would show Carney abused his position as a town commissioner to hire provisional employees — who had been already working for the town but had yet to take and pass a civil service exam — over others who had scored higher.

“This case is going to be about how the defendant used that power, how he used that power to coerce four young men into turning down jobs with the town, jobs that they wanted and jobs that they were qualified for so that the defendant could hire his preferred candidates into those government jobs,” Ward said.

In his opening statement, defense attorney James Pascarella of Mineola, who is representing Carney, agreed the case was about power, but power in Islip Town politics.

Saying his client was “the victim of politics,” Pascarella said: “It’s just not about John Carney’s power. It’s about the power of politics. . . . These criminal charges are the result of Islip Town politics.”

Carney, along with Michael A. Allen, was indicted on Sept. 13 and charged with four class D felonies of third-degree bribe receiving, and 12 class A misdemeanors — four counts of official misconduct and eight counts of second-degree coercion. The felony charges each carry a maximum prison sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years, prosecutors have said.

Carney and Allen at their arraignments pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released on their own recognizance. Allen, who will be tried separately from Carney, is due back in court May 18.

Carney resigned from his commissioner position a week before the indictment, citing health reasons. After he was indicted, Allen was demoted to his previous title of fire marshal II and placed on administrative duty.

As the trial proceeded Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from two of the four complaining witnesses, including Jared Gunst and Brett Reiersen, as well as Michael Catalano, who was Islip Town’s chief fire marshal at the time the crimes were alleged to have been committed. He has since retired.

Pascarella’s line of questioning during cross-examination centered on the complainant’s knowledge about a document they signed called a declination, which said they were declining the fire marshal jobs but would be kept on the civil service list for future consideration.

Alan Schneider, the head of Suffolk County Civil Service, is set to take the witness stand Wednesday.

The four complaining witnesses told investigators they were told during interviews by Carney and Allen that the homes they lived in had code violations and that it was not permissible for Islip Town employees to have outstanding code violations on their homes, according to Ward, who told jurors that the applicants did not own the homes they were living in but were living with relatives.

Candidates were forced, Ward said, to sign the “declination letters.”

“The evidence will show that during those four interviews, the defendant threatened to remove four young men from the civil service list if they didn’t decline the position,” Ward said.

Both Ward and Pascarella pointed to a 2007 memo issued by then-Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan, which states that all town employees and their homes must be in compliance with town code. Pascarella said Carney’s actions were done as “a good and honest attempt to perform his duties by following town policy.”

“Why would John put his job, his pension, his life on the line for this?” Pascarella told the jurors to ask themselves when it’s time for deliberations. “What reasons does he have?”

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