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Suffolk County Board of Ethics

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta at a press conference in October. File photo by Julianne Mosher

By Raymond Janis

The Suffolk County Board of Ethics issued an advisory opinion Feb. 16 regarding campaign contributions from police unions to elected officials.

In May 2021, county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) requested an opinion regarding donations made by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association to the campaign of former District Attorney Tim Sini (D). Trotta asked the board whether Sini, or any other elected official, could accept a donation exceeding the $5,000 limit imposed by New York State election law 14-116.

“This board opines that if an elected official accepts contributions from a police union or any political action committee that have been made in violation of election law 14-116, a violation of the Suffolk County code of ethics would occur,” the board wrote, adding that “a definitive ruling … falls solely within the province of the New York State Board of Elections and/or a court of law.”

The board concluded that the donation created an “appearance of impropriety” due to the unique relationship between a prosecuting attorney and the police department. 

The PBA has pushed back against these charges. In an email, PBA president Noel DiGerolamo defended the union’s involvement in the election and accused Trotta of making false allegations. 

“Last year, Legislator Trotta made false allegations about the PBA’s election activities. Every other agency in the state has rejected his nefarious claims,” DiGerolamo said. “The recent decision by the Suffolk County Board of Ethics, even if valid, does not even suggest any wrongdoing by the PBA.”

Trotta, who was a police officer with Suffolk County Police Department for 25 years, said he sees an unhealthy arrangement between the county government, police department and police unions

“The reason why other law enforcement agencies didn’t do anything is because they took hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars from this union,” he said. “It’s corrupting the government and it’s making it unaffordable for anybody to live here.”

According to DiGerolamo, the PBA has donated to political campaigns for decades. He said these donations have fully complied with all state and federal election laws.

“The Suffolk County PBA has been 100% compliant with all rules and regulations regarding political contributions,” he said. “We have supported candidates in every political party for decades and will continue to do so.”

Trotta argues the existing practice of donating is precisely the problem. He claims that he and two others are the only elected officials in county government who do not accept police union money.

DiGerolamo said the BOE does not have authority to interpret federal or state election law. He viewed the advisory opinion as a significant jurisdictional overreach. 

“The advisory opinion is a tremendous overreach of the board’s authority,” DiGerolamo said. “It attempts to supersede federal and state law and undermine the democratic process. This unethical opinion cannot be allowed to stand.”

According to DiGerolamo, the PBA intends to clear its name of any wrongdoing. He said the PBA will exhaust all legal options necessary to defend itself and the voting rights of police officers.

“The Suffolk County PBA will seek all legal remedies available to ensure law enforcement’s hardworking men and women are not disenfranchised from the election process,” he said.

Last November, Sini lost his reelection bid to incumbent District Attorney Raymond Tierney (R). Trotta said he is optimistic that Tierney can root out corruption and restore electoral integrity in Suffolk County.

“I’m counting on the new Suffolk County district attorney to enforce the laws,” Trotta said. “I’m very confident he will.”

Sini could not be reached for comment.