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Suffolk shelter officials had criminal records, county says

Two high level officials who helped run the Suffolk County homeless shelter in Brentwood, which officials say overbilled the county by $3 million, were barred from the site for months because they had past criminal convictions, county social services officials confirmed.

Julie Levine, president of the nonprofit Long Island Women’s Empowerment Network, and Richard Ottimo, who officials described as the shelter’s former property manager, have past felony convictions, said Traci Barnes, assistant to the social service services commissioner.

The criminal records came to light after anonymous letters alleging wrongdoing were sent to county officials last August. Levine declined to comment Monday and the nonprofit’s attorney declined to comment Tuesday. Network officials did not return calls to their offices Tuesday.

Officials said the network late Tuesday signed papers allowing the landlord of the former hotel to enter a lease with the Family Service League so it can take over shelter operations as soon as Wednesday. Officials said they expect most of the shelter’s line staff of about 20 to remain on the job.

The settlement, which allows the 400 children and adult residents to remain at the shelter, came after the county’s order ending the network’s contract took effect at midnight Monday.

Barnes said records show that Levine had a 2001 felony conviction for criminal possession of marijuana with intent to sell for which she received five years of probation.

Ottimo was convicted of bank fraud in 2001 and sentenced to one year in jail and required to pay restitution of $84,900 along with three years of supervised release, Barnes said. He was convicted in 1988 of a class D felony for assault and a misdemeanor resisting arrest. Ottimo, who could not be reached for comment, received five years’ probation and a $2,500 fine, Barnes said.

County officials said Levine and Ottimo violated a 2004 county law by failing to undergo fingerprinting of all employees at the shelter. The law requires workers to certify in writing that they have never been convicted of a crime or listed on any state child abuse registry.

Violations can result in perjury charges and dismissal as well as termination of the shelter contract.

Barnes said the department determined that the criminal records of Ottimo and Levine only became known after they were ordered to undergo fingerprinting.

County officials indicated last week that Levine and Ottimo had been barred from entering the shelter since October. County officials said they did not immediately identify them or provide details because they had turned over information about potential criminal wrongdoing to District Attorney Thomas Spota.

A still incomplete county comptroller’s audit has found that the Women’s Empowerment Network overcharged the county by $1.099 million and claimed unauthorized expenses totaling another $2.237 million.

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