Suffolk County Executive Calls for Probe of DA Office's Bonus Payments

By Joseph De Avila Features Dow Jones Newswires

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is asking state officials to examine whether bonuses given by the local district attorney's office to its prosecutors were legal.

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"These bonuses were not authorized by the county legislature pursuant to any legal process or authority that I am aware of," Mr. Bellone said in a Monday letter to Thomas DiNapoli, the New York state Comptroller. "I am respectfully requesting your office review and, if necessary, investigate the circumstances involving the payment and reimbursement and legality" of those payments.

A spokeswoman for Mr. DiNapoli said the New York state Comptroller's office is reviewing the request.

The office of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota paid out bonuses totaling $2.7 million from 2012 to 2017, according to county budget documents. Mr. Spota last week said he would resign after he was indicted on federal obstruction of justice charges.

Mr. Spota said he didn't need approval because the district attorney's office reimbursed the county for the payments from a fund of assets and money seized during criminal investigations.

"This office has not received a letter, email or a phone call from anyone in that office questioning the legality of these payments," a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office said. He said the county executive's office "was well aware of every single one of the special payrolls."

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A spokesman for Mr. Bellone said the county first became aware of the payments in the spring of 2017.

Federal prosecutors allege that Mr. Spota attempted to cover up the assault of Christopher Loeb, a handcuffed suspect, by former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Mr. Spota is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Mr. Spota also said last week that he will be stepping down from his post. Mr. Spota, who is in his fourth term as Suffolk County's top prosecutor, said earlier this year that he wouldn't run for a fifth term.

Regarding the bonus payments, Mr. Bellone in his letter to Mr. DiNapoli questioned whether state law permitted the use of asset-forfeiture funds for bonus payments.

The spokesman for Mr. Spota said it is legal under both state and federal law to use asset forfeiture funds to pay stipends.

The letter also noted that Mr. Bellone asked the Suffolk County Comptroller's office to explain what authority it had to distribute the bonus payments to the District Attorney's office without legislative approval and hasn't received a response.

County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. didn't return a request for comment.

--Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed to this article.

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 30, 2017 18:39 ET (22:39 GMT)