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Suffolk GOP executive hopeful launches first attack

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 computer 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 knew and when did he know it," said O'Connor. However, he could not say whether any crimes -- other than Rogers' -- were committed, saying that would be up to prosecutors to decide.

However, his legislative running 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 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 Cummella "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 event put together by Wiley 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 Cummella 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 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.

She said she also included a March 28 "letter of intent" from Rodgers, indicating the county planned to move forward with the deal, but that funding had not yet been approved.

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 provide the two-thirds majority needed to borrow the money. 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, the day before pleading guilty in district court to two misdemeanors of offering a false instrument and official misconduct for pressuring a subordinate to create a fake requisition number for project. Rodgers also failed to report on his county financial disclosure form that he owned Red Dog Design, a computer consulting firm, or the income he earned from it.

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