A “super PAC” created by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association is waging a campaign against Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, funding radio and internet attack ads and direct mailings to Republican voters urging them to “Vote No on Sean Walter” in the Sept. 10 party primary.
The Riverhead supervisor is currently in the crosshairs of the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, a well-financed super PAC created by the Suffolk PBA in August 2011, that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to influence the outcome of political elections.
“Sean has taken some positions not in the best interests of the public or law enforcement,” Noel DiGerolamo, president of both Suffolk County PBA and the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation, told RiverheadLOCAL Monday afternoon. “Jodi has always been a staunch supporter of law enforcement,” he said.
The county PBA president said Walter has failed to provide the town with enough police officers and has failed to provide town police with the resources they need to do their job.
Walter says he’s increased the number of Riverhead police officers since taking office and notes that during his tenure the Riverhead PD became an accredited law enforcement agency.
Nevertheless, DiGerolamo says, “He’s incompetent.”
“That he has to rely on the Guardian Angels — that itself is disgraceful,” DiGerolamo said, referring to an arrangement Walter spearheaded this year to bring the group to town, a move he said was intended to build bridges with the local Latino community. Embraced — albeit somewhat reluctantly — by the chief of police, the Guardian Angel patrol was opposed by the Riverhead PBA, as well as by the other members of the Riverhead Town Board and business leaders in the downtown community.
“The people don’t deserve volunteers to come in and patrol the streets of Riverhead. They deserve trained professionals,” ” DiGerolamo said.
“Jodi— I will bet you she will leave policing to the professionals. She will have a chief who will be allowed to make decisions,” he said.
Walter: Suffolk PBA wants to take over Riverhead police
But the attack ads and mailers being funded by the Super Pac don’t talk about law enforcement. Instead, they decry Walter’s management of town finances, pointing to alleged tax increases and increased spending between 2010 and 2014 and the lowering of the town’s bond rating.
Walter says the real agenda of DiGerolamo and the Suffolk PBA is to merge the Riverhead Town Police Department into the county department.The supervisor says DiGerolamo more than a year ago “threatened” him with political retribution if he opposed the merger, which would have to be approved by voters in a referendum.“
He said if I refused to put it on the ballot, ‘we’re coming after you,’” Walter recalled.
Walter first recounted the conversation to a reporter in March 2014, after a dust-up with the police union leader in Hauppauge, where Walter spoke at a legislative committee hearing against the proposed merger of the county parks police with the county police department. Walter called the merger, proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone with the support of the Suffolk PBA, “an unfunded mandate” because it shifted responsibility from the county to the town for patrol of the Indian Island campground and other county parklands. (The merger was subsequently unanimously approved by the county legislature and authorized by the state legislature.)
Suffolk PBA president: ‘That’s an absolute lie’
DiGerolamo categorically denies saying anything like that to Walter and denies the Suffolk County Police Department has designs on Riverhead.
“That’s an absolute lie,” DiGerolamo said yesterday. “I have not tried to take over any police department, let alone Riverhead.” The parks police merger was requested by the parks department, he said. Walter’s allegation “shows his level of desperation,” DiGerolamo said.
“He’s using his fear of losing the election and trying to put fear in the people of Riverhead with this fabrication. He should be ashamed of himself.”
Walter said the money being spent on a campaign against him in a town outside the boundaries of the Suffolk Police District speaks for itself.
“Other than bringing Riverhead into the county fold, what’s their interest here?” Walter asked. “There is no other reasonable conclusion.”
The super PAC has gotten involved in elections throughout Long Island, DiGerolamo countered.
“If we believe someone is detrimental to law enforcement or public safety officers in general, we’ll get involved,” he said.
County PBA funnels nearly $2.3 million to super PAC since 2011
Since creating the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation on Aug. 1, 2011, the Suffolk PBA has funneled nearly $2.3 million into the super PAC’s coffers — by far the lion’s share of the LILEF’s funding. In 2015 alone, the county police union has pumped $310,000 into the organization, according to campaign financial disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections.
But where and how the group spent its money this year to date is not clear from an examination of the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation’s campaign finance disclosure reports.
The group has reported expenditures of $196,399 so far in 2015. Its filed “expense allocation” statement (part of its January Periodic Report) lists only candidates for state assembly, U.S. House, state comptroller and county comptroller. Though it reported spending $53,425 in its July Periodic Report — including $37,200 paid to Sunrise Outdoor Advertising as a “deposit for advertising”, it did not file a Schedule R, the expense allocation statement, with that report. No Schedule R was filed with the 11-day pre-primary report, due Aug. 31, covering the period from Aug. 7 through Aug. 27. The only expenditure reported that period was $5,000 to a Manhattan law firm, Levy Ratner. (It filed a “no activity statement” for the 32-day pre-primary reporting period.)
The group’s name is on a banner ad attacking Sean Walter that has been running on the N.Y. Post website and on a direct mail that arrived in local mailboxes last week. It has also been running radio ads on L.I. News Radio. It has also apparently funded a phone campaign targeting registered Republicans urging them to vote for Giglio. When questioned, a caller said he was calling from “the Law Enforcement Foundation.”
Walter says there’s only one plausible reason a PAC funded by the county PBA is pumping tens of thousands of dollars into a Republican primary race in Riverhead, DiGerolamo’s denials notwithstanding.
Giglio: County takeover of Riverhead PD ‘not on the table’
“Jodi Giglio has sold her soul to Hauppauge and she’s trying to sell the soul of the Town of Riverhead to Hauppauge,” Walter said.
Giglio denies having cut any deals with county police.
“I’ve never had any discussions with anybody in Suffolk County PD about Riverhead going into Suffolk,” she said in an interview yesterday. “That discussion isn’t on the table, nor will it ever be,” she said.
“Some [Riverhead] officers want to go into the county department, some are against it,” she said.
Giglio said she’s running with two retired Riverhead police officers who “know there are more efficient ways to run the police department where we’re not racking up $800,000 in overtime. Our cars are being held together by gum. We have computers that don’t work for days at a time. We have K9 officers in sector cars. We need to get our police the resources they need,” she said. She calls for beefing up the code enforcement division “so we’re not burdening our police department with crimes that don’t have to happen.”
“Our goal is to keep an eye out for taxpayers and keep our police department,” Giglio said.
The Riverhead PBA has not so far endorsed either candidate in the supervisor’s race. The Riverhead police union PAC did make a $1,040 donation to Giglio’s campaign on July 17; the Suffolk County PBA PAC (which is a separate entity from the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation super PAC) made a $1,000 donation to Giglio’s campaign on July 1, according to the councilwoman’s 32-day pre-primary disclosure report.
Super PAC created to expand PBA’s political influence
Rules prohibit a “super PAC” like the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation from making direct contributions to a candidate’s campaign. However these groups, known as independent expenditure-only committees, are allowed to raise unlimited cash from corporations, unions, associations and individuals and spend unlimited sums to advocate for or against political candidates.
That’s exactly what motivated the PBA to establish the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation. According to a website published by a PBA slate of officers seeking election in 2012 — dubbed “The Results Matter Team” — the “PBA Board of Governors retained special election law counsel and, following the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, created a Super PAC named the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation. The PAC allows the PBA to spend amounts in excess of those permitted to political campaigns. The PBA has very effectively used this money for public awareness. Those efforts, coupled with the overwhelming support our candidates received in the 2011 elections by members putting “boots on the ground,” resulted in every one of our endorsed candidates in Suffolk County winning their elections.”
The county PBA funds contributed to the super PAC come out of the PBA’s Education and Issue Advocacy Fund, which was created in 2009. The fund’s money comes from a $28 bi-weekly PBA member assessment (over and above regular union dues). PBA members can also voluntarily donate money to the fund.
“The PBA Board of Governors had the foresight to realize the only way to secure our members’ future was to become much more politically active. From the beginning, the assessment money has been used to support our political allies and oppose our political enemies,” the Results Matter website states.
The officers of the L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation, according to the group’s most recent income tax return (2013) available on the IRS website, are all members of the board of governors of the Suffolk County PBA.
The L.I. Law Enforcement Foundation has “about 10” law enforcement agency members, DiGerolamo said yesterday. Currently the Riverhead PBA is not a member, “but Riverhead is considering it,” he said.
Riverhead PBA president Dixon Palmer did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
According to DiGerolamo, foundation members, in addition to the Suffolk PBA include the Suffolk County Superior Officers Association, the Suffolk County Detectives Association, the Suffolk County Detective Investigators Association, the Suffolk County Probation Officers Association, and some village police organizations, such as the Ocean Beach PBA, the Amityville PBA and the Northport PBA.
Editor’s note: This article was amended after its original publication to reflect the following correction: The original article incorrectly stated neither the Riverhead PBA or Suffolk County PBA has made any donations to either candidate’s campaign. In fact, PACs maintained by both police unions contributed to the Giglio campaign committee.