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Babylon lawyer to head group probing ethics commission

A special legislative committee set up to investigate the Suffolk County Ethics Commission - and whether its actions have been unduly influenced by County Executive Steve Levy - has picked a Babylon attorney as its special counsel and will seek the power to swear in witnesses, Presiding Officer William Lindsay said Friday.

Patrick Kevin Brosnahan Jr., a Democrat who ran for district attorney in 1993, will lead the investigation into the Ethics Commission's actions, Lindsay said. The full Suffolk Legislature is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to grant the committee investigative powers. Legislators discussed seeking subpoena power but decided to delay that decision, Lindsay said.

Reached Friday, Brosnahan said he would have no comment.

Also Friday, Levy - while saying he did not believe there were problems with the Ethics Commission - announced his own panel to review the commission's actions.

"At this point, we are not sure if the intent of the legislature's panel is to seek information or simply a ruse for releasing a politically motivated report just before the 2011 elections," he said in a statement.

In an interview, Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said he was "flabbergasted" that the commission had allowed Levy to file a financial disclosure form different than the one required of roughly 650 county employees. He also said he was concerned that Levy might have influenced some ethics commission actions. He cited two ethics complaints that were filed by the executive branch against Levy's political foes, whom he did not identify, that are unresolved after several years.

"This isn't about politics," Lindsay said of the five-person committee. "It's about the openness of our government. The core of this is these financial disclosure forms. If we don't have that, we have nothing."

In a statement, Levy said: "If I were able to influence the ethics commission, which was appointed by the legislature, I wouldn't be waiting two years for decisions I consider very important for the taxpayer."

His spokesman, Dan Aug, also said in a statement: "It is disgraceful for Mr. Lindsay to disparage the reputation of [Ethics Commission Director] Judge [Alfred] Lama and the commission members by inferring that their unpaid, hard work has been anything but stellar without a single bit of substantiation."

The legislature has formed only six investigative committees in its 40-year history, experts said. "It is significant," said legislative counsel George Nolan.

Lindsay formed the committee after Newsday reported in June that Levy had been filing a less detailed New York State financial disclosure form, rather than the more extensive county form. Levy has said the Ethics Commission ruled that he could satisfy the local requirement by filling out the state form.

After Newsday's report, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota subpoenaed financial disclosure records. Several weeks later, Levy filed the county forms with the Ethics Commission. The county Ethics Commission has not released them in response to a July 7 request from Newsday, but is expected to do so next week.

Newsday reported earlier this month that court reporting firms owned by Levy's wife, Colleen West, do business with at least seven county vendors that have received millions in payments from the county. Levy said he is not required to disclose his wife's clients, even though the county form requires disclosing all sources of income, including those of a spouse.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), a committee member, echoed Lindsay's concerns. "The ethics board is supposed to be like Switzerland. . . . That whole degree of independence and confidence in them has been lost and this is about restoring that," he said.

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