Suffolk County District Attorney-Elect Raymond Tierney has won convictions of MS-13 gang members, child abusers and a powerful political boss during 26 years as a career prosecutor.
Tierney told Newsday that next on his agenda is pushing to overhaul the state's bail reform law, which eliminated cash bail for people arrested for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes.
Since it became law in 2020, opponents of bail reform have blamed it for spurring a rise in crime, including in Suffolk. But proponents of the law argue there is no evidence connecting crime increases, which they attribute mostly to the pandemic and ensuing economic woes.
"I think bail reform is a disaster," Tierney said in an interview. "What we can do as the professionals in the field is talk about how these laws don't work and don't keep us safe. I can be loud and unequivocal in saying which aspects of these laws are not good for the safety of our citizens."
Tierney, 55, of Holtsville, is set to be sworn in as district attorney Jan. 1. He will oversee an office with an estimated $43 million annual budget and a staff of 441 full-time employees, including about 225 prosecutors. Tierney's salary for his first year in office is budgeted at $215,250.
In addition to lobbying the State Legislature to repeal the bail reform law and give judges discretion on bail, he said he plans to reestablish a unit concentrating on gangs.
A career prosecutor
Tierney spent about 14 years in the Suffolk district attorney's office in two separate stints, worked in the Brooklyn district attorney's office and also as a federal prosecutor based in Central Islip for more than a decade.
He said he plans to bring a "tough on crime" approach to prosecuting alleged gang members and others accused of committing violent crimes or selling drugs like fentanyl, a highly addictive and sometimes lethal opioid.
"When I talk about being tough on crime … I'm talking about those individuals, or individuals who are profiting handsomely from selling drugs to the community," Tierney said. "So I'm going to be very strict and very tough on those individuals."
Tierney left the Brooklyn district attorney's office in February to become the chief counsel for compliance and enforcement at Suffolk County Off Track Betting Corp. He needed to be Suffolk-based in order to run for the county's top law enforcement job.
As a prosecutor, he has gotten an up-close look at political corruption on Long Island.
Tierney won a conviction in 2016 against Suffolk Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh, who was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally pocketing more than $200,000 in pay he collected in the sheriff’s department while he was actually golfing, gambling or politicking.
Tierney was also part of a team of federal prosecutors who in 2018 tried a corruption case against former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, his wife Linda Mangano and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto.
Venditto was acquitted and a mistrial was declared in the Manganos’ cases after the jury deadlocked. The Manganos were retried in March 2019 and were convicted by a team of prosecutors that didn't include Tierney.
The panel found Edward Mangano, 56, guilty of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jurors found Linda Mangano, also 56, guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and two counts of lying to the FBI. They are awaiting sentencing.
In a separate corruption case in Suffolk, Tierney's brother-in-law, former Suffolk Police Det. Kenneth Bombace, testified with immunity at the obstruction trial of former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and top aide Christopher McPartland, that he was one of the detectives, along with ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, who beat a handcuffed prisoner inside a police precinct in December 2012.
Spota and McPartland were both convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and acting as accessories to the deprivation of prisoner Christopher Loeb’s civil rights. They began serving 5-year prison sentences this month for their roles in orchestrating the cover-up of Burke's prisoner beating. Burke, who pleaded guilty to depriving a person of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice for beating Loeb, served most of a 46-month prison sentence.
Tierney was not involved in the Spota and McPartland prosecutions. Asked about Bombace's role, Tierney said: "That's my brother-in-law and I have a great relationship with him. I never had a professional relationship with him."
Tierney has also prosecuted scores of MS-13 murder cases, including the 2014 conviction of alleged MS-13 gang member Adalberto Guzman, who was found guilty in the February 2010 killings of Vanessa Argueta and her 2-year-old son Diego Torres.
A graduate of St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington, Tierney was recruited by Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, to play football. A knee injury during his freshman year sidetracked the running back’s college career, though he resumed playing in his junior and senior years.
After graduating from Brown in 1988, he worked as a paralegal for a year before entering law school at St. John's University in Queens. His grandfather and namesake was a lawyer and a judge in Queens.
Tierney — who with his wife, Erica, has four children — began his career in the Suffolk district attorney’s office under former District Attorney James Catterson in 1992 and left after seven years to work for the law firm Shaub, Ahmuty, Citrin & Spratt LLP in New Hyde Park. He returned to the Suffolk district attorney’s office in 2002, when Spota unseated Catterson.
He left that job in 2008 and went to the U.S. attorney's office, where he worked as assistant United States attorney until 2019.
He then returned to the state system, as an executive assistant district attorney to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, a Democrat.
Randi Chavis, the now-retired staff attorney-in-charge of the Central Islip office of the Federal Defenders of New York, an independent nonprofit, battled Tierney as a defense attorney for defendants too poor to hire their own counsel.
"It's fair to say that we certainly didn't see eye to eye on the issues in the cases or the appropriate outcomes, but Ray was always respectful, fair. Integrity, he had plenty of it."
Among Tierney's law school classmates was Richard Donoghue, who served as the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District in Brooklyn for about two years under former President Donald Trump.
Tierney's desire to be a prosecutor dates to law school, Donoghue said. The two reconnected when Tierney was a prosecutor in the Suffolk district attorney's office and called Donoghue's office to ask about coordinating on a child sexual abuse case.
"He came over with some detectives and laid out a case and as soon as I looked at it, I said 'we'll take it,'" Donoghue said. "I'm sure people in the DA's office were not encouraged to walk their cases over to the U.S. attorney's office. So I think he stuck his neck out in doing that."
The defendant was convicted of sexually abusing minors and possessing child pornography and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Clashing with former bosses
Working on child abuse and domestic violence cases under Spota, Tierney recalled clashing with his bosses.
"Obedience was weighed more heavily," Tierney said. "I would stick to my guns and that was not really appreciated."
Tierney, later working in the Public Corruption Bureau under McPartland, said the case of then-Ocean Beach acting Police Chief George Hesse, accused of police brutality, was "my demise."
"Chris [McPartland] and I had a disagreement and he said I was insubordinate and he wanted me to be fired," Tierney said.
Tierney kept his job, but he was reassigned to rackets before leaving months later in 2008 to work as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office.
"I acted contrite and I acted sorry because I didn't want to be fired," he said.
Heading into the election
Tierney said his 15 percentage point victory in November over incumbent one-term District Attorney Timothy Sini — a former federal prosecutor and Suffolk police commissioner — didn't surprise him.
Running on both the Republican and Conservative lines, Tierney said he felt the pulse of a community concerned about a perception of escalating crime and angry with the new limits on bail.
Sini, a Democrat, raised nearly $2 million for his campaign and had the backing of the powerful Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, which typically more closely aligns with Republican candidates.
Tierney's campaign website displayed photos of him with prominent Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Tierney said his vows to push for overturning bail reform and his self-described title as a "political neophyte" appealed to voters.
Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Suffolk Republican Party, said he recruited Tierney to run after hearing his name from ex-judges and lawyers.
"He had prosecuted everything from drug cartels, to gangs, murderers and political corruption; he had the full gamut," Garcia said.
Suffolk County Legis. Robert Trotta, a Republican and former police detective and an outspoken critic of the police union leaders, has known Tierney since they were kids.
"I've known him as being honest, with integrity, a great prosecutor who's honest and isn't political," Trotta said.
The office priorities
Tierney said despite assertions during the campaign that he would scrap Sini's Conviction Integrity Bureau, which reviews claims of innocence and prosecutorial misconduct in earlier convictions, he's keeping it, making it stronger and "more efficient in protecting those wrongly convicted."
The unsolved murders of 10 people, mostly young women who were sex workers, known collectively as the Gilgo Beach killings, is a case that Tierney is eager to take on.
"It's an absolute priority," Tierney said. "I don't think you can come to the case with any preconceived ideas because then you're sort of limiting yourself. … Nothing is unsolvable."
Tierney said he wants to provide more updates to the victims' families, some of whom, according to Tierney, have felt frustrated by a lack of information from authorities.
But he insisted he'll invest much of his energy on the bail issue, acknowledging that any changes to the state's cashless bail system will have to come from the State Legislature.
Tierney said he'll use his post as district attorney to lobby aggressively for changes to the law, including for judges to have more discretion over bail.
"You can reform any system, and should continually strive to reform systems," he said. "But I think when it comes to drivers of violence, you have to first and foremost protect society."
Incoming Suffolk District Attorney Raymond Tierney:
- Will oversee more than 225 assistant district attorneys and a total staff of 441 while running an office with a budget of $43 million.
- Left the Brooklyn District Attorney's office in February to work at Suffolk County Off-Tracking Betting Corp. in order to run for the top law enforcement job in Suffolk.
- Will earn $215,250 in his new position.
- He plans to reestablish a unit concentrating on gangs and examine the office's diversion and community outreach efforts.
- Won a conviction in 2016 against Suffolk Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh for illegally pocketing more than $200,000 in pay he collected in the sheriff’s department while he was actually golfing, gambling or politicking.