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Sources: Babylon Democratic chief overpaid $125,000

Robert Stricoff, town party leader for the past

Robert Stricoff, town party leader for the past 12 years, late Wednesday informed the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency that he will not take over as the $155,000-a-year executive director Monday as planned until questions about his party salary are resolved. Credit: Steve Pfost

Babylon Democratic chairman Robert Stricoff may have been overpaid as much as $125,000 in salary and expenses, according to a party audit turned over to the Suffolk district attorney's office last week, high-level county and party sources said.

Stricoff, town party leader for the past 12 years, late Wednesday informed the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency that he will not take over as the $155,000-a-year executive director Monday as planned until questions about his party salary are resolved, IDA chairwoman Joanne Mineri said in a statement.

Town officials Wednesday night said Stricoff still plans to step down from his role as chief executive of the Babylon IDA at week's end. His tenure as Babylon party chair is due to expire next week.

Peter Casserly, who is slated to be elected Babylon Democratic chairman Wednesday night, declined to confirm the dollar amounts involved in the party salary investigation, but said he and Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer three weeks ago initiated the audit, which covers a period dating to 2012 as part of the routine transition in leadership.

"It's a mess -- an accounting mess -- and we're going to get to the bottom of it," Casserly, 66, said.

If elected, Casserly vowed to implement "a full set of written procedures"; hold regular meetings of the party's executive committee, which are required under party rules but were not taking place; and institute accounting practices for how bills will be paid. "We'll institute financial controls, which should have been done years ago; and do an annual audit," said Casserly, who also is a construction management consultant for the town.

Sources said Stricoff's last party salary level properly approved by the party's executive committee was $20,000 a year, but he has taken raises that increased his current salary to $60,000 a year without party authorization. In the past year, the sources also said he took an unauthorized $20,000 bonus as well as payment for personal expenses.

For a second day, Stricoff did not return calls for comment to his home or office Wednesday. When questioned Wednesday night at a Democratic legislative fundraiser, his boyhood friend and close ally, County Executive Steve Bellone, declined to comment.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said Stricoff's decision to delay his IDA appointment "sounds like the appropriate action."

Stricoff's decision came hours after Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the minority leader and GOP comptroller candidate, said Stricoff should "absolutely not" be appointed to the county IDA "until the audit is throughly investigated."

Tuesday night, Kennedy said he had already started reaching out to IDA board members to reverse their decision. "I personally do not want to see this guy appointed at this point because it has raised a question of confidence," he said.

While Bellone's and Stricoff's relations with Schaffer have been strained for months, several of his allies said the audit and request for a probe is not part of the political war. "He was torn; it's not something he enjoyed doing," said a Democratic official who did not wish to be identified. "But he's a lawyer and would be complicit if he didn't take action."

Democratic county chairman Schaffer's decision to turn the issue over to the district attorney comes after consulting with Joseph Conway, a former federal prosecutor who served as the county legislature's consultant when the ethics code was revised. Conway said Schaffer made the recommendation because "there looked to be some irregularities here that warranted a review by the district attorney."

Rick Montano, a former Suffolk lawmaker ousted last year in a bitter Democratic primary, has criticized party spending practices in the past and sees the audit as evidence of serious problems. "Stricoff has a major legal issue," he said. "It's not a complicated case. When you take money from the committee that had not authorized it, it's called stealing."

With Sarah Crichton

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