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James O'Connor, Suffolk GOP executive hopeful, launches first campaign attack

Jim O'Connor, Republican and Conservative candidate for Suffolk

Jim O'Connor, Republican and Conservative candidate for Suffolk County executive, endorsed in early October by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). On Sept. 1, 2015, O'Connor speaks to reporters in Sayville. Credit: Ed Betz

Republican Suffolk County executive candidate James O'Connor, in his first campaign salvo, called Tuesday for a new probe to find out what Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone knew about a controversial $5 million computer deal last year that led to a plea bargain in which former top aide Donald Rodgers resigned.

While simply calling for an "independent investigation," O'Connor, under questioning at a news conference, said District Attorney Thomas Spota should reopen his earlier inquiry, citing "new information" that a top Bellone aide had an early warning about Rodgers' actions.

"The question is what did the county executive know and when did he know it?" O'Connor said. However, he could not say whether any crimes -- other than Rodgers' -- were committed, saying that would be up to prosecutors to decide.

However, his legislative ticket mate, Donna Cumella, a county whistleblower who was interviewed by investigators, acknowledged she may have already disclosed the new information to prosecutors in the original probe.

O'Connor could not say whether he will send Spota a letter asking for a review, but the candidates said they will file a Freedom of Information Law request for emails between Bellone and Thomas Melito, deputy county executive for performance management.

Spota declined to comment on O'Connor's request, but said Cumella "did not provide any such email to investigators or prosecutors with the district attorney's office."

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider dismissed the attack as lacking substance. "It sounds like an event put together by Wile E. Coyote," he said. "It's a political attempt to investigate something that's already been investigated on which no taxpayer funds were ever expended."

Bellone and Melito declined requests for interviews.

At the heart of the GOP candidates' concern is that Cumella on May 1, 2013 emailed Melito, alerting him that Dell had billed the county $1.45 million for the first year of a five-year software deal after Rodgers had signed documents on March 28, 2013, for new software licenses. Cumella told Melito she could not process the voucher because the county legislature had not authorized borrowing to pay for it.

Rodgers, under questioning at a June 18, 2013, legislative meeting, said no deal had been signed and Melito did not disclose details of Cumella's email. The legislature failed by a single vote to approve the borrowing. Cumella, a county IT project manager, said the vote saved the county $2.8 million.

Rodgers resigned as the $150,000-a-year information technology commissioner in August 2014, a day before pleading guilty to two misdemeanors of offering a false instrument and official misconduct.

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