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Bonilla trial moves into closing arguments

Town of Hempstead Clerk Mark Bonilla leaves Hempstead

Town of Hempstead Clerk Mark Bonilla leaves Hempstead District Court after closing arguments in his misconduct trial in Hempstead. (July 17, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The trial of Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla moved into closing arguments Wednesday with the prosecution contending he abused his power as an elected official and the defense saying the clerk was a victim of a political witch hunt.

Bonilla was arrested in September on charges he attempted to obtain compromising photographs of a female subordinate who had filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. He is charged with two counts of official misconduct, coercion and attempted petty larceny.

Nassau County prosecutor Jed Painter said in closing arguments he has proved Bonilla requested the photos from another worker, Alex Desidoro, who had been in a romantic relationship with the complainant, and threatened Desidoro with a job transfer if he did not comply. Bonilla's attorney, Adrian DiLuzio of Mineola, has said it's possible Desidoro offered the photos without coercion.

"If Alex Desidoro, acting of his own initiative, offered these photographs, photographs that were on his phone, that would have been a five-second conversation," Painter said. "That's not the way this went down."

DiLuzio, who has said it's possible Bonilla didn't know the photos were sexual in nature, said his client was victimized by employees who thought they had something to gain by having him charged with criminal acts.

"The whole premise of this case was based on character assassination," DiLuzio said in court, adding, "No scalps look better than a public official's on a district attorney's wall."

Bonilla is a Republican and Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice is a Democrat, something DiLuzio has pointed out.

Painter presented a series of text messages between Bonilla and Derek Foder, a clerk's office employee, during his final statements. Foder testified earlier in the trial that he acted as a go-between for the photographs, which were never delivered.

One of the text messages shows Bonilla telling Foder to "make sure you stroke him" and "tell him he's doing the right thing" in reference to Desidoro's willingness to hand over the photos.

But DiLuzio accused the district attorney's office of using speculative evidence to ruin Bonilla's career. Bonilla is not seeking re-election to the post he has held for nearly 10 years.

"It's an absolute disgrace that this case is in this courtroom," DiLuzio said in court.

Justice Sharon Gianelli is scheduled to issue a verdict July 25 at 10 a.m. at First District Court in Hempstead. Bonilla, who faces up to 1 year in jail if convicted, waived his right to a trial by jury.

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