Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) said his upcoming fundraiser “wasn’t meant as...

Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) said his upcoming fundraiser “wasn’t meant as anything other than helping people out.” Credit: James Escher

The Suffolk County Legislature’s majority leader, whose own domestic violence case is pending, is raising money for an anti-domestic violence group — with payments directed to his political action committee.

Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) said his fundraiser is “absolutely not political,” and that his PAC, Suffolk Solutions, will exclusively distribute money to community groups, starting with the Freebird Organization, a newly formed not-for-profit charitable corporation under New York law. Caracappa on Wednesday is scheduled to host a benefit that has been advertised with flyers requesting RSVPs to an “ELECTNICKCARACAPPA” email address.

Nonprofit experts criticized the event's social media promotions as having the potential for blending charity and political activity, something prohibited by federal law.

“This wasn’t meant as anything other than helping people out,” said Caracappa, 55, a longtime labor leader first elected to the legislature in 2020, shortly before he was arrested and charged with obstruction of breathing and criminal contempt for allegedly choking his then-estranged wife.

Caracappa has called the charges fabricated, and a judge in March adjourned his criminal case for a year, after which it will be dismissed if he abides by a protective order and otherwise stays out of trouble.

“There’s two kinds of victims in domestic violence,” Caracappa said, “people who actually get abused by their spouses or whoever it may be. And people who use that against people as a sword instead of a shield.”

Caracappa’s now-ex-wife did not respond to a request for comment.

The flyers for Caracappa’s $150-a-person gala, with sponsorships of up to $5,000, describe Freebird as “advocat(ing) and support(ing) victims of domestic violence and their children.” The organization in June switched its state business status from a limited liability company to a not-for-profit, records show, as it applied for recognition from the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization.

Freebird attorney Vincent Grande III, of Copiague, said Monday that the group has registered with the state attorney general’s charities bureau as it awaits a determination from the IRS. 

Though Freebird repeatedly has promoted the Caracappa event on its Facebook page, it said in an email to Newsday that “the fundraiser is his [Caracappa's] affair.”

Grande said in a statement that Freebird “didn’t solicit any contributions” and “does not know and still doesn’t know what benefit they would receive” from Caracappa’s event. 

“They were happy having support,” Grande wrote.

Laurie Styron, executive director of Charity Watch, a Chicago-based watchdog group, said the event flyers and promotions — which have included thanking Caracappa — appear to be “a clear violation of the spirit of” IRS regulations barring charities from engaging in political activity.

“But it’s unclear if this constitutes a violation of the letter of the law,” citing the fact that the IRS, because of limited resources, might take “more of a facts and circumstances approach when making a determination as to whether or not any thank you messages amount to an implied endorsement of a candidate.”

Caracappa, who won election with Republican and Conservative backing, said he chose Freebird as the beneficiary of his first fundraiser because of how quickly it connected a woman he referred to shelter and support resources after she alleged abuse from a partner. The organization’s Facebook page also promotes clothing drives, legal services and self-defense classes. 

“Freebird really stepped up and did some incredible things,” he said.

Neither Freebird’s website nor the promotions for Caracappa’s event disclose the organization’s principals. When Newsday first sent an inquiry to its listed email address, an unsigned reply stated that board members did not wish to make their roles public because of the “sensitive nature of what our organization represents. We are working with women and their children who are in severely abusive situations and you will be putting their lives at risk.”

State incorporation papers, which are public records, show that Freebird’s first three directors are Karin Murphy, a principal of a Smithtown political consulting firm that has hosted events with county Republican and Conservative candidates, including Caracappa; Janine Barbera-Dalli, a former Conservative county district court judge who was transferred to small claims court and didn’t seek reelection after she was accused in 2017 of texting prosecutors with case advice from the bench; and Symone Vogeney, a lawyer and registered Conservative who has worked for the Town of Smithtown, according to voter records and the state attorney registry.

Grande, who said he was speaking on behalf of Freebird’s board, noted that the not-for-profit organization “does not take salaries, have any employees or paid staff, nor do they ever intend to seek taxpayer money.

“Like anyone who volunteers at a local chamber, service organization — like a Rotary or civic group — the volunteers leave politics at the front door,” Grande wrote of Freebird’s board.

Caracappa added that he didn’t need to raise political funds through his Suffolk Solutions PAC, which shares a post office box with his legislative campaign account, because he won his first full two-year legislative term last year with 70% of his district’s vote.

“I don’t need to cheat or scam my way,” he said.

Some of the event flyers posted to Freebird’s Facebook page in recent days have removed Caracappa’s name and his campaign email. Freebird, however, wrote last week that the changes were made simply to allow it to pay Facebook a fee to expand the audience that could view the posted flyer, which isn’t allowed for political content.

“He is an elected official and the site deems this political,” Freebird wrote on its page.

Daniel Kurtz, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Pryor Cashman who specializes in nonprofit organizations, said Caracappa’s event flyer made no disclosure that the direct recipient of money is a PAC, rather than a tax-exempt charity with a federal tax identification number that supporters can use to write off contributions.

“People are free to contribute to his political action committee, but that's not what they're being told here,” said Kurtz, who was charities chief under former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams.

Suffolk Solutions hasn’t distributed funds to charities yet, Caracappa said, because “I got a little sidetracked with other issues,” a reference to dealing with his arrest.

Styron noted that Caracappa’s description of Freebird being a group that “advocates [for] and supports” domestic violence victims can mean almost anything, down to simple social media posts. 

“They are using charity buzzwords without explicitly using the word charity,” Styron wrote in an email to Newsday, referring to Caracappa’s flyers. “This can easily give the public the impression that ‘donations’ are tax-deductible and that they are supporting charitable efforts, when in reality this may just be a group of people raising funds for their own purposes that they are not obligated to spend according to regulations governing actual charities.”

Caracappa pledged in a Facebook post that “one hundred percent of funding from Suffolk Solutions will go directly to services provided by Freebird” and that none of the proceeds will fund “any political campaign or event.”

Grande said Freebird, for its part, “will always be in line” with its mission statement supporting domestic violence victims and “in conformity with the rules and regulations set forth for [501(c)(3)] charities.”

Suffolk police arrested Caracappa at his Selden home in December 2020, a month after he was elected to fill the remaining term of the late Tom Muratore in the county’s 4th Legislative District, representing a portion of central Brookhaven.

He first faced charges of criminal obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor, and criminal contempt, a felony, after it was alleged that he violated an order of protection. The felony already has been dismissed.

Caracappa repeatedly predicted that he’d be “vindicated,” and last November, 4th District voters overwhelmingly elected him to a full two-year term. In January, he was named majority leader of the legislature’s Republican caucus.

Later that month, new Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney, who won election with Republican and Conservative backing, requested a special prosecutor for Caracappa’s case. A judge assigned it to Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly.

On March 4, acting State Supreme Court Justice John Iliou, in response to a defense motion, adjourned the case against Caracappa for one year in contemplation of dismissal, and set a one-year order of protection for Caracappa’s now-ex-wife. Donnelly spokesman Brendan Brosh said at the time that prosecutors “reviewed the evidence and had extensive conversations with the complainant and that she fully supports the resolution.”

Caracappa said he hopes his efforts to make Suffolk Solutions a PAC benefiting community causes, with anti-domestic violence efforts being the first, is given the benefit of doubt he did not get in his criminal case. 

Future recipients may be groups aiding veterans, the homeless and substance abuse victims, he said.

“People are pessimists. They think the worst right away,” Caracappa said. “Not like there haven’t been stories of corruption in politics, but my heart is in the right place, believe me.”

With Jim Baumbach and David M. Schwartz

The Suffolk County Legislature’s majority leader, whose own domestic violence case is pending, is raising money for an anti-domestic violence group — with payments directed to his political action committee.

Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) said his fundraiser is “absolutely not political,” and that his PAC, Suffolk Solutions, will exclusively distribute money to community groups, starting with the Freebird Organization, a newly formed not-for-profit charitable corporation under New York law. Caracappa on Wednesday is scheduled to host a benefit that has been advertised with flyers requesting RSVPs to an “ELECTNICKCARACAPPA” email address.

Nonprofit experts criticized the event's social media promotions as having the potential for blending charity and political activity, something prohibited by federal law.

“This wasn’t meant as anything other than helping people out,” said Caracappa, 55, a longtime labor leader first elected to the legislature in 2020, shortly before he was arrested and charged with obstruction of breathing and criminal contempt for allegedly choking his then-estranged wife.

Caracappa has called the charges fabricated, and a judge in March adjourned his criminal case for a year, after which it will be dismissed if he abides by a protective order and otherwise stays out of trouble.

“There’s two kinds of victims in domestic violence,” Caracappa said, “people who actually get abused by their spouses or whoever it may be. And people who use that against people as a sword instead of a shield.”

Caracappa’s now-ex-wife did not respond to a request for comment.

The flyers for Caracappa’s $150-a-person gala, with sponsorships of up to $5,000, describe Freebird as “advocat(ing) and support(ing) victims of domestic violence and their children.” The organization in June switched its state business status from a limited liability company to a not-for-profit, records show, as it applied for recognition from the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization.

Freebird attorney Vincent Grande III, of Copiague, said Monday that the group has registered with the state attorney general’s charities bureau as it awaits a determination from the IRS. 

Though Freebird repeatedly has promoted the Caracappa event on its Facebook page, it said in an email to Newsday that “the fundraiser is his [Caracappa's] affair.”

Grande said in a statement that Freebird “didn’t solicit any contributions” and “does not know and still doesn’t know what benefit they would receive” from Caracappa’s event. 

“They were happy having support,” Grande wrote.

Laurie Styron, executive director of Charity Watch, a Chicago-based watchdog group, said the event flyers and promotions — which have included thanking Caracappa — appear to be “a clear violation of the spirit of” IRS regulations barring charities from engaging in political activity.

“But it’s unclear if this constitutes a violation of the letter of the law,” citing the fact that the IRS, because of limited resources, might take “more of a facts and circumstances approach when making a determination as to whether or not any thank you messages amount to an implied endorsement of a candidate.”

Caracappa, who won election with Republican and Conservative backing, said he chose Freebird as the beneficiary of his first fundraiser because of how quickly it connected a woman he referred to shelter and support resources after she alleged abuse from a partner. The organization’s Facebook page also promotes clothing drives, legal services and self-defense classes. 

“Freebird really stepped up and did some incredible things,” he said.

Neither Freebird’s website nor the promotions for Caracappa’s event disclose the organization’s principals. When Newsday first sent an inquiry to its listed email address, an unsigned reply stated that board members did not wish to make their roles public because of the “sensitive nature of what our organization represents. We are working with women and their children who are in severely abusive situations and you will be putting their lives at risk.”

State incorporation papers, which are public records, show that Freebird’s first three directors are Karin Murphy, a principal of a Smithtown political consulting firm that has hosted events with county Republican and Conservative candidates, including Caracappa; Janine Barbera-Dalli, a former Conservative county district court judge who was transferred to small claims court and didn’t seek reelection after she was accused in 2017 of texting prosecutors with case advice from the bench; and Symone Vogeney, a lawyer and registered Conservative who has worked for the Town of Smithtown, according to voter records and the state attorney registry.

Grande, who said he was speaking on behalf of Freebird’s board, noted that the not-for-profit organization “does not take salaries, have any employees or paid staff, nor do they ever intend to seek taxpayer money.

“Like anyone who volunteers at a local chamber, service organization — like a Rotary or civic group — the volunteers leave politics at the front door,” Grande wrote of Freebird’s board.

Caracappa added that he didn’t need to raise political funds through his Suffolk Solutions PAC, which shares a post office box with his legislative campaign account, because he won his first full two-year legislative term last year with 70% of his district’s vote.

“I don’t need to cheat or scam my way,” he said.

Copy of a flyer announcing Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) inviting...

Copy of a flyer announcing Legis. Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) inviting guests to the "White Party," a charity event benefiting the Freebird Organization. The location of the event has since changed. Credit: Freebird Organization

No disclosure on flyer

Some of the event flyers posted to Freebird’s Facebook page in recent days have removed Caracappa’s name and his campaign email. Freebird, however, wrote last week that the changes were made simply to allow it to pay Facebook a fee to expand the audience that could view the posted flyer, which isn’t allowed for political content.

“He is an elected official and the site deems this political,” Freebird wrote on its page.

Daniel Kurtz, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Pryor Cashman who specializes in nonprofit organizations, said Caracappa’s event flyer made no disclosure that the direct recipient of money is a PAC, rather than a tax-exempt charity with a federal tax identification number that supporters can use to write off contributions.

“People are free to contribute to his political action committee, but that's not what they're being told here,” said Kurtz, who was charities chief under former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams.

Suffolk Solutions hasn’t distributed funds to charities yet, Caracappa said, because “I got a little sidetracked with other issues,” a reference to dealing with his arrest.

Styron noted that Caracappa’s description of Freebird being a group that “advocates [for] and supports” domestic violence victims can mean almost anything, down to simple social media posts. 

“They are using charity buzzwords without explicitly using the word charity,” Styron wrote in an email to Newsday, referring to Caracappa’s flyers. “This can easily give the public the impression that ‘donations’ are tax-deductible and that they are supporting charitable efforts, when in reality this may just be a group of people raising funds for their own purposes that they are not obligated to spend according to regulations governing actual charities.”

Caracappa pledged in a Facebook post that “one hundred percent of funding from Suffolk Solutions will go directly to services provided by Freebird” and that none of the proceeds will fund “any political campaign or event.”

Grande said Freebird, for its part, “will always be in line” with its mission statement supporting domestic violence victims and “in conformity with the rules and regulations set forth for [501(c)(3)] charities.”

Domestic violence case

Suffolk police arrested Caracappa at his Selden home in December 2020, a month after he was elected to fill the remaining term of the late Tom Muratore in the county’s 4th Legislative District, representing a portion of central Brookhaven.

He first faced charges of criminal obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor, and criminal contempt, a felony, after it was alleged that he violated an order of protection. The felony already has been dismissed.

Caracappa repeatedly predicted that he’d be “vindicated,” and last November, 4th District voters overwhelmingly elected him to a full two-year term. In January, he was named majority leader of the legislature’s Republican caucus.

Later that month, new Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney, who won election with Republican and Conservative backing, requested a special prosecutor for Caracappa’s case. A judge assigned it to Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly.

On March 4, acting State Supreme Court Justice John Iliou, in response to a defense motion, adjourned the case against Caracappa for one year in contemplation of dismissal, and set a one-year order of protection for Caracappa’s now-ex-wife. Donnelly spokesman Brendan Brosh said at the time that prosecutors “reviewed the evidence and had extensive conversations with the complainant and that she fully supports the resolution.”

Caracappa said he hopes his efforts to make Suffolk Solutions a PAC benefiting community causes, with anti-domestic violence efforts being the first, is given the benefit of doubt he did not get in his criminal case. 

Future recipients may be groups aiding veterans, the homeless and substance abuse victims, he said.

“People are pessimists. They think the worst right away,” Caracappa said. “Not like there haven’t been stories of corruption in politics, but my heart is in the right place, believe me.”

With Jim Baumbach and David M. Schwartz

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