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DO 07 - Leg. Calarco - PR

Posted on: November 3, 2017

Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco Introduces Bill to Provide Oversight to Asset Forfeiture Fund

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PATCHOGUE, N.Y. – Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco has announced that he will introduce new legislation that will give the Suffolk County Legislature oversight into how asset forfeiture funds are spent by Suffolk County’s law enforcement agencies. He will introduce the measure at the Special Budget Meeting of the Legislature on Wednesday, November 8th.

This bill comes in response to news reports that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota used asset forfeiture funds to give bonuses to Assistant District Attorney’s without any approval or oversight. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed documents related to the bonuses as part of their indictment of Spota and one of his chief deputies, Christopher McPartland.  

The money used in this fund is given to Suffolk County by the State and Federal government from assets seized during criminal investigations. Suffolk County’s law enforcement agencies, such as the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, often use this money to purchase technology and equipment vital to their mission of improving public safety. These funds are considered “off budget” because they do not go into the County’s general fund and are not appropriated by the Legislature.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Local Law No. 6-2017, which gave the Suffolk County Comptroller’s Office the authority to audit the use of asset forfeiture funds. These audits would determine whether the funds were used legally and appropriately. Yearly reports are required by each department that uses these funds however, the first report is not due until March of 2018. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, some of the bonuses were granted after the law was enacted.

“Clearly we did not go far enough to make sure that there was enough oversight into how this money is being used,” said Calarco. “My bill will make sure that this money is never used to pay bonuses to any County employee. It will also ensure that any payments with the funds are made with approval from the elected representatives of the public.”

The bill introduced by Calarco will prohibit proceeds from being used by any County department, office, or agency to further compensate any employee. In addition, all expenditures must be approved by the Public Safety Committee of the Legislature.

“This will provide the scrutiny to ensure that asset forfeiture funds are spent, not only in compliance with federal regulations, but also wisely and in keeping with local policy goals which are set by the Legislature,” said Calarco.

Legislator Kara Hahn and Legislator William Lindsay have both signed on as co-sponsors.

“I am completely opposed to the method in which the District Attorney’s office utilized asset forfeiture funds to pay bonuses to prosecutors,” said Lindsay.  “The potential motivating factors behind a prosecution could be scrutinized if this policy were to continue.  We would never want to create an environment where their integrity would be called into question.”
“Recent questions about the use of asset forfeiture funds have deteriorated the public’s trust as we assumed it was being used to implement anti-crime programs which protect our residents rather than providing bonuses to public servants. I stand by Legislator Calarco in taking the necessary steps towards giving full transparency over the use of these funds in order to regain the public’s trust,” said Hahn.  “Last year, I put forward legislation requiring departments to file an annual report with the Comptroller’s office outing the sources of and expenditures made using asset forfeiture funds.  The legislation being laid on the table on Wednesday further strengthens that initial law and is a common sense expansion given the allegations that have been brought to light regarding our outgoing District Attorney.  Misuse of public funds is unacceptable and we need to send a message that backroom deals or bonuses are not permitted and will not be tolerated.”

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