Attorneys for Suffolk District Attorney Bureau Chief John Scott Prudenti will go to court Thursday seeking a court order to block the county ethics board from handing over Prudenti’s financial disclosure forms to a legislative committee.
The legal action comes after the Suffolk County Legislature directed the ethics board to appear before the Ways and Means Committee on Friday and produce 15 years of financial forms. Lawmakers want to determine whether Prudenti disclosed renting his partyboat to defense attorneys with whom he negotiated plea deals.
David Besso, Prudenti’s attorney, confirmed he will seek an order in state Supreme Court in Riverhead to bar the board from turning over the forms. Besso said the legislative directive is pre-empted by state law and is “illegal and without authority.”
The legislature directed the ethics board to produce Prudenti’s disclosure forms last Wednesday at the request of County Executive Steve Bellone. Two days before, Bellone had held a news conference where he called on the ethics officials to immediately release the documents or explain why they denied Newsday’s freedom of information request for them.
Bellone late Wednesday released a letter to Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), Ways and Means chairwoman, that said Prudenti’s disclosures “need to be publicly released as soon as possible,” because Prudenti could retire as soon as Oct. 20 with an annual pension of more than $100,000.
“It would be an affront to taxpayers who . . . play by the rules if a public official were allowed to walk away with a large pension with so many serious questions outstanding,” Bellone said.
Bellone said that if Prudenti failed to disclose income from boat rentals, he would be guilty of a crime that District Attorney Thomas Spota has convicted others for.
Fleming declined to comment Wednesday, as did Spota’s spokesman, Robert Clifford.
In her original ruling on Prudenti’s disclosures, Samantha Segall, the ethics board’s executive director, cited a federal exemption for law enforcement officials, and said disclosure would result in “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” She said the “requested record is currently under review and . . . deemed confidential.”
Bellone in May asked the ethics panel to determine if Prudenti violated the county ethics code by taking “questionable cash payments” from defense attorneys for the boat rental.
Ethics board attorney John Gross said after Bellone’s recent news conference that the county executive could get the documents with a two-third’s vote of the legislature. Lawmakers voted 14-4 to direct the ethics commission to provide the disclosures.
George Nolan, legislative counsel, last week called Segall’s ruling “weak,” saying there is no law enforcement exemption. Nolan said the ethics board can redact specific details — not the entire form — only at the request of the filer if appropriate for privacy reasons.
While the legislature ordered that Prudenti’s financial forms be turned over, it is unclear whether the Ways and Means Committee will make them public or simply review them in executive session.
Some lawmakers say their access to the documents is permitted in the “confidentiality” section of the county ethics law, when the legislature reviews the performance of the commission itself.