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Reason for Suffolk whistleblower probe surfaces

Suffolk Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante during an

Suffolk Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante during an interview at police headquarters in Yaphank on Jan. 17. Credit: James Carbone

The reason for the Suffolk County Legislature’s whistleblower investigation, until now a subject of speculation, finally has come to light.

The probe centers on the stalled detective sergeant promotion for police Sgt. Salvatore Gigante, nephew of Gerard Gigante, Suffolk’s chief of detectives. Salvatore Gigante has been transferred to the district attorney’s police detective squad.

Salvatore Gigante is not yet a detective sergeant because a nepotism resolution to authorize the promotion, filed before the legislature by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, was never passed. Bellone withdrew the resolution March 19.

Disclosure of the subject of the whistleblower probe came in a letter from David Kelley, a former U.S. attorney who served as Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini’s 2017 campaign chairman. Kelley was hired by County Attorney Dennis Brown to respond to the whistleblower inquiry, which Kelley said centers on Salvatore Gigante.

Kelley's May 8 letter went to the legislature’s outside counsel Joel Weiss, who is looking into the whistleblower's allegations. Copies went to all 18 Suffolk County legislators. Newsday obtained a copy of the letter.

The position of detective sergeant  in the DA’s office is attractive because the holder gets prime cases and salary and overtime that can exceed $300,000 a year. That's far more than what the county police commissioner and county executive earn.

Kelley in his letter also disclosed that the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the county under a 1983 consent decree dealing with minority hiring, has “expressed its particular concern with the recent transfer and appointment” on which the whistleblower inquiry is focused.

The Justice Department's civil rights division informed the county of its concerns in correspondence on March 19, the day Bellone withdrew the nepotism resolution.

Kelley said the federal inquiry is part of the civil rights division’s “continuing review on the police department’s process for filling specialty assignments, especially through  non-merit factors such a personal or familial connections.”

Kelley said the “review by the civil rights division appears to be well underway and they have in fact conducted discussions with relevant witnesses.”

Kelley did not return calls for comment. 

Weiss is scheduled to report his preliminary findings to the county legislature on Tuesday, and discuss the possible need for subpoenas to continue the probe.

“Mr. Kelley’s letter to me is inaccurate, in all essential respects,” Weiss said in an interview last week. “I will address that, as well as my preliminary investigation in the proper forum, the legislature, next Tuesday.”

Weiss was hired last month after approval of a legislative resolution, sponsored by Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), authorizing an inquiry under the county whistleblower law. The statute aims to protect county employees from retribution for reporting improper or illegal actions.

Kelley in his letter called the legislative probe “ill-conceived.” He urged lawmakers “to refrain from any further investigation” and defer to the federal review to avoid creating “any possible impediments or obstruction to the fair and impartial process underway.”

Kelley said Gregory has “an actual conflict of interest if not at least the appearance of one,” because Gregory conceded he could be a witness in the inquiry. Kelley also said Gregory could be “perceived — if not actually — to influence witnesses or the course of the investigation.”

Gregory, who was approached by the undisclosed whistleblower, said he had been careful to distance himself from Weiss' hiring and his work by delegating it to Legislative Counsel Sarah Simpson.

Police officials declined to answer a list of specific Newsday questions about Salvatore Gigante’s  transfer. The department also did not respond to a request for comment from Gigante.

But in a prepared statement, Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the department sought a waiver to promote Salvatore Gigante to detective sergeant in the district attorney section of the detective division. 

Hart said of the six applicants for the post, four already were detective sergeants, while two, including Gigante, were sergeants. Gigante was the only applicant who had previous experience in the district attorney section, she said. 

“Based on his application and previous work in the district attorney section, Sgt. Gigante was selected for the position,” Hart said.

While Salvatore Gigante  was transferred Jan. 2, Hart said he had not received a promotion or pay increase and still is working as a sergeant. County records list his pay at $144,950 a year.

Hart did not detail the qualifications of the other contenders or the selection process for the detective sergeant appointment.

Hart acknowledged federal officials are conducting “a comprehensive review of the department’s promotional process including the process used in this transfer” to “ensure they have, will and continue to adhere to all regulations and best practices.”

But Gregory said of the police department: “If they think what they did was proper, I find it curious they would make a statement to the press and not sit down and talk to our investigator on how the process played out.”

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