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Candidates for district attorney should avoid Suffolk County police union donors, ethics board finds

J.D. Allen
Lou Tutone, first vice president of Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, speaking at a rally in September 2021 against New York's mask and vaccine mandates for government workers with U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is running for governor in November 2022.

The Suffolk County Board of Ethics issued an opinion last week that said district attorneys campaigning for office should not accept funding from police unions.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, a Republican, has had a years-long, mostly solitary complaint against elected officials who take campaign donations from the Police Benevolent Association. He argues police get plush contracts because of these donations, but his complaints have failed to garner much traction until now.

The four-member ethics board wrote in its opinion that it would be a violation of the county’s code of ethics for candidates to accept campaign donations from the police unions because district attorneys have a close working relationship with police. The opinion does not apply this same standard to those running for positions other than district attorney.

This undermines Trotta’s main complaint, but he still counts the Board’s opinion as a major win against what he calls corruption.

“This is just common practice. That’s like saying I’ve been stealing from that guy’s house every other week and no one ever said something until they got caught," Trotta said. "But guess what, now they got caught,"

According to the county charter, the Board of Ethics is permitted to investigate and impose penalties. However, the written opinion does not indicate such an investigation is underway. Trotta’s previous attempts to get the board to opine on the matter have failed. Instead, the board referred the matter to other investigating bodies.

Trotta said he and others have made criminal complaints to the county district attorney's office.

The previous Suffolk County district attorney, Democrat Tim Sini, did not immediately respond to messages. He received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the PBA, and said previously that the district attorney does not have the authority to investigate election law.

Republican Rob Tierney, Suffolk's current top prosecutor, campaigned for district attorney on not taking PBA money. His office declined to comment about the ethics decision.

The PBA and County Executive Steve Bellone did not return messages for comment.

The PBA donates hundreds of thousands of dollars, and most elected officials in Suffolk County say there’s nothing illegal with it.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.