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Trotta

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) with the support of the Republican Caucus has requested a Certificate of Necessity (CN) from County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to reauthorize the red-light camera program in Suffolk County through a mandated referendum. 

“Let the public decide if this program is saving lives or costing the taxpayers their hard earned dollars,” said Trotta.

His fellow Republicans echoed this sentiment.

According to Trotta, a $250,000 study, prepared by L. K. McLean Associates, did not provide the data that the Suffolk County Legislature was seeking to thoroughly determine if the red-light camera program should be extended for another five years. In addition, the report noted that accidents increased 60 percent at red-light camera locations, yet the consultants argued that the program should continue. 

Republican legislators Tom Climi (R-Bay Shore), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Steven Flotteron (R-Bay Shore) and Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) support Trotta’s resolution to have a mandated referendum on the November ballot.

“This bill is a yes or no to sign the contract for renewal of the red-light cameras,” said Kennedy. “We have been told that we can work on issues once the contract is signed. We all know that all issues are defined upon contract signature, just look at the roughly 15 million we had to pay out when our County Executive decided to breach the signed contract at Ronkonkoma Rail Road Station for solar panels.”

The GOP Caucus leader Tom Climi has said that his seven-member caucus will vote unanimously to end the program. 

“The results speak for themselves: more than a thousand additional crashes at red-light camera intersections involving thousands of drivers, all put at risk of injury or worse, all subjected to vehicle repair costs and increased insurance rates, with no reduction in fatalities at these intersections,” Climi said. “Rather than taking photos and video at these intersections, pretending to make them safer, we should engineer these intersections to actually BE safer.” 

Trotta had encouraged the public to speak at the Sept. 4 meeting of the full Legislature  and to speak in support of his referendum. The meeting, which was held at the Williams Rogers Building, Legislative Auditorium, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Hauppauge, began at 9:30 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m. the issue had not yet come up for debate and residents were still waiting to speak for their allotted three minutes during the public portion. 

Trotta has encouraged anyone with questions to call him at 631-854-3900.

Democrat leaders were unavailable for comment before going to press. Bellone’s office did not respond to questions about the program.

The results of the Sept. 4 meeting were unavailable before press time.  By early evening, county legislators ultimately voted along party lines in a 11-7 vote to extend for five more years the red-light camera program. 

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk County officials have set their sights on the wallet of a disgraced ex-police chief, looking to recoup costs of litigation.

Nearly three months after Suffolk County legislators tabled a proposal to sue former police chief James Burke over the $1.5 million settlement it paid out to his victim, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a measure March 5 to begin a lawsuit in an attempt to recoup compensation and salary Burke had received up to when he resigned in October 2015. 

“Burke clearly breached the oath he took as an officer and the duty he owed the county to serve in his capacity faithfully and lawfully,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said. The Smithtown legislator was the main sponsor of the bill. 

The bill would authorize the county attorney to file a lawsuit by using “the faithless servant doctrine,” which dates back to the 19th century and allows employers to recoup all compensation paid to an employee while they acted in a disloyal manner. 

The resolution was drafted to recover the compensation paid specifically to Burke and no other county employee. 

“It feels great,” Trotta said. “Finally a victory for Suffolk County taxpayers.”

Originally, Trotta wanted to recoup money from a 2018 settlement the county paid to Christopher Loeb, who was shackled and beaten by Burke back in 2012 as part of a cover-up. County attorney Dennis Brown said at a December 2018 Ways and Means Committee public hearing there was no basis for a possible lawsuit and there was no way to recover or recoup the settlement dollars paid in the lawsuit, according to previous reporting by TBR News Media.  

In the federal civil lawsuit, the county agreed to pay the settlement amount for the civil rights offenses as they were the ex-police chief’s employer at the time. The county also paid the settlement for the actions of six other police officers who helped cover up Burke’s actions when he allegedly beat a handcuffed man for stealing a duffle bag from his vehicle.  

At the same hearing, Howard Miller, a Garden City-based attorney with the law firm Bond Schoeneck & King, presented a case for the county suing Burke for his wages and compensation paid by the county under the faithless servant doctrine.

Miller mentioned that he had successfully represented clients at the state level in similar lawsuits, including the William Floyd School District.

“This doctrine is designed to create a deterrent to future acts like this, of corruption and misconduct,” Miller said at the December 2018 public hearing.

Brown also said in a statement that the Suffolk County Charter authorizes either the county executive or the Legislature to direct legal action. The resolution that was passed by the Legislature provides a framework specific to that action, but does not limit the ability of the county executive to pursue additional legal action.

Trotta hopes the measure sets a precedent that anyone, whether in government or not, will be held accountable for their actions. 

“Former District Attorney Spota empowered and conspired with Jim Burke and Chris McPartland,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) spokesperson Jason Elan said in a statement. “Clearly, all three fall under the faithless servant doctrine so any legal action to recoup taxpayer-funded salary and benefits should include each individual.”

According to a representative from the county executive’s office, Bellone signed the legislation to recover salary and benefits from Burke on March 11 and further directed a similar suit be filed against ex-District Attorney Thomas Spota and his top aide who have also been indicted on related charges.

Legislators not letting Bellone off hook

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is searching for ways to improve the county's financial outlook. File photo by Alex Petroski

A high stakes political finger pointing battle is ramping up in Suffolk County.

Top Suffolk County officials have been left to answer for the promotion of former Chief of Police James Burke, who in February pleaded guilty to charges of a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which occurred following the arrest of Smithtown man Christopher Loeb in 2012.

On Tuesday Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) held a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead where he and fellow legislators, including Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), called for both County Executive Steve Bellone and District Attorney Tom Spota to resign from their positions.

On Thursday, Bellone joined the list of people including the legislators and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco calling for Spota to resign.

“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” Bellone said Thursday afternoon on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office. “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”

Trotta arrived while Bellone addressed the media, and interjected that reporters were speaking with a “co-conspirator.” Trotta reiterated his stance on Thursday that Bellone is as much a part of the political corruption problem in the county as Spota for his role in promoting Burke, and standing by him despite evidence of Burke’s troubled past.

“I have never said that I have never made mistakes in my public career,” Bellone said. “I’ve made many mistakes. But they have never, ever been with ill intent and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I don’t repeat them. When I promoted Jim Burke I consulted District Attorney Tom Spota. When I fired Jim Burke I did not consult Tom Spota.”

Bellone said he promoted Burke not because of recommendations from Spota or others, but because he was a “charismatic” and “impressive” person who made a memorable presentation.

Bellone handed a letter calling for Spota’s resignation to one of his employees inside the office, and Spota later met the media to respond Thursday.

“It’s a very, very difficult day for me,” Spota said in a video of that press conference. “He has delivered to me a letter asking for my resignation. I have absolutely no reason why I should resign, or should I be removed from office.”

Spota fired back at Bellone, suggesting his motivation was a “personal vendetta” against Spota for investigating and prosecuting people Bellone was close to.

On Tuesday, Bellone responded to Trotta, Cilmi and McCaffrey’s calls for his resignation through an email from a spokeswoman.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” the statement said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office.  I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment.”

Trotta made it clear following Bellone’s comments that the county executive should not be let off the hook.

“It was an Academy Award winning performance,” Trotta said of Bellone’s press conference. “Forty-eight hours ago we were partisan, and we were political hacks. Now all of the sudden he responds to a Newsday article, he sees what’s going on and he tries to jump in front of it. It’s ridiculously absurd…He’s a total, unadulterated liar.”

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Kim Revere of Kings Park In the kNOw speaks at the drug forum. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

A grassroots advocacy group from Kings Park continued its quest to keep kids away from drugs last week with an informative forum flanked by a star-studded list of guest speakers.

Students attending William T. Rogers Middle School in Kings Park joined their parents at the school gym Wednesday night, March 4, in welcoming the speakers who assembled for the annual preventing destructive decisions forum.

Hosted by Kings Park In the kNOw (KPITK), a grassroots drug outreach and prevention organization, the forum served as an opportunity for parents and their children to become better educated on the perils of alcohol and drug addiction.

Opening the event, a member of the school faculty addressed parents and students who sat opposite a large stage and offered words of encouragement for the young members of the audience.

“Hopefully we can impress upon you tonight how much we love you and how much your families love you and the importance of the actions that you take at this level while you’re here with us at the middle school,” said the one faculty member, before introducing the night’s speakers.

The first speaker at the podium was Kim Revere, a volunteer for KPITK since 2007 and a mother of four. She described getting involved with the organization because of the growing drug problem gripping our communities and the difficulties she faced at home with her 27-year-old son, who at the time was struggling with heroin addiction.

“What Kings Park In the kNOw does is we try to bring educational programs into the schools and into the community to keep parents educated and educate kids as to what the trends are and try to have kids make positive decisions in their lives,” Revere said. “This town is growing and kids are dying. My son has been to rehab nine times; he is finally on the right track. He’s 27 years old and I will not trust him until the day I die. No matter how good he does. I don’t want another parent to live with that pain,” she added.

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was also in attendance and drew from his 25-year background in law enforcement to discuss the lasting impact that narcotics have on local communities.

“I used to say you put the police radio on the counter and when it went off 90 percent of those calls coming out of there are drug or alcohol related,” Trotta said. “Whether it be domestic abuse, a car accident, a robbery or a theft, people break into houses to get stuff to sell to get drugs. They’re not going to be paying their mortgage with it.”

Trotta also delivered an overview of Suffolk County’s Social Host Law and New York State’s 911 Good Samaritan Law passed in 2011, which according to the legislator is a “great law” that states that if you are in a situation involving illicit substances and someone with you is in immediate danger that you should “call 911, and you will not be arrested” through implication.

Rounding out the forum were presentations from Thomas’ Hope founder and drug prevention advocate Linda Ventura, and Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding and Growth Services.

Ventura lost her son Thomas to drug addiction in March 2012, when he died from a heroin overdose. Since then she’s been making routine trips to Albany to push for change in the area of addiction treatment services and to better define how we should combat drug use in New York State. On the one-year anniversary of her son’s death, she launched Thomas’ Hope, a nonprofit foundation that promotes drug awareness, prevention and advocacy.

As executive director of HUGS, Laube recognizes the risks that are present for young people and that the unfortunate circumstances that shook Ventura’s household with the loss of her son are becoming increasingly common as drug use grows in popularity throughout Long Island and across the country.

Through the HUGS program she actively seeks to promote social growth among children and adolescents through leadership programs and retreats and allow them to bond and have fun in the absence of drugs and alcohol.

“All of our activities are meant to have kids feel like they are a part of something and a part of something bigger,” Laube said. “So, that we become just as fun of an activity as maybe some of the other high risk choices that are out there.”

Taking time to address the night’s event, Laube reminded parents and students that while beneficial, the real challenge presented to prevention experts and lecturers who engage with an audience is the impact of their messaging over the long term. In order for lasting change to occur, a large community effort is important and necessary, according to Laube.

“We know that unless we begin to have consistent messaging all throughout, that it’s just one night of information,” said Laube. “So what we encourage communities to do is to really begin to bring about that community-level change and to have events regularly and often, and have parenting sessions and get better programs in schools for kids so it moves beyond just this one-shot event.”