Curiouser and Curiouser
The public first got an inkling of Levy’s troubles to come when Newsday reported, more than a year ago, that the county executive had given $85,000 in county title work to a company owned by a convicted felon, Ethan Ellner. Levy had been an usher at Ellner’s wedding, and they reportedly used to pump iron together. Said Levy to Newsday back when the story broke: “I just tried to give a guy a second chance in life and no good deed goes unpunished.”
Things soon began to get interesting because Ellner had been arrested with former Suffolk Legis. George Guldi and several others in 2009 and charged with $82 million in mortgage fraud, a case that links real estate scams in the Hamptons to S&M dominatrices in SoHo. Ellner pleaded guilty in December 2009 to several felonies and became one of Spota’s cooperating witnesses. That big case is still pending. This winter, in a separate legal action, Guldi was convicted of grand larceny and insurance fraud, and sentenced to 8 to 12 years in prison. At his trial in Suffolk County Criminal Court this winter, Guldi, a Democrat, claimed that Ellner had told him he had to pay a bribe to the county executive to get county work. But the district attorney redacted Steve Levy’s name from court documents and kept Levy from having to appear at Guldi’s trial. Levy’s spokesmen said that neither Guldi nor Ellner had any credibility.
Reached at the Suffolk County Jail last week, where the disbarred former Westhampton attorney was awaiting his next trial, Guldi was in good spirits. He said he felt “marvelous” because he’d lost 20 pounds and was actually getting an hour’s worth of exercise a day. He called the agreement between Spota and the county executive “absurd on its face,” and that apparently $4.1 million was “the purchase price” of Levy’s “get-out-of-jail card.”
Guldi promised to bring up more accusations against the county executive at his next trial, adding that “no good soldier fires all his ammo during his first battle.” He said the two men did real estate business together in the 1990s.
Guldi insisted that he’ll eventually be acquitted of all charges or they will be dismissed on appeal.
“Levy won’t finish his term,” Guldi predicted, as the sounds of other visitors at the jail almost drowned out his words.
“He can have my room! I cleaned it for him.”
Turning serious, Guldi insisted that “everything Levy touched is tainted” and that the county legislature “should do their jobs” and “rescind all his deals.”
The presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook), told the Press that he would let the investigation play out.
“If [Levy had] stepped down the other day,” Lindsay says, “one of his chief deputies would take over, and it would be a caretaker’s position until we could set up a special election,” which would have to occur within 90 days. He said a special election “would cost us two and a half million dollars.” A special election would probably be held in late June or July, followed by the general election in November.
“So the executive branch first has a caretaker, and then is engulfed in politics up to their ears in two elections!” Lindsay exclaims. “On a practical note, I don’t think that it would be the best thing for the county in light of the fiscal crisis we’re facing. We really can’t afford to make too many mistakes here. It’s dire! We’re looking at a $176 million deficit for 2012.”
Lindsay doesn’t want Suffolk to copy Nassau if he can help it.
“The legislative branch seems to be the stable branch of Suffolk county government as we speak today,” he says.
“The county legislature is thoroughly capable of functioning without the county executive,” says a well-connected Democrat who was a long-time aide to a Suffolk legislator. “They’ll come up with their own initiatives, which are sometimes wonderful and thoughtful, and are sometimes just stupid.” The problem, this observer says, is the burden Levy’s uncertain situation has placed upon his deputies. “It’s not an easy place to be.”
“I wish Steve and his family well,” says John M. Kennedy, Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader of the Suffolk legislature. “The Republican caucus will stay focused on fiscal integrity.”
Kennedy says he would not fault the agreement Spota cut with Levy that allowed him to remain in office. “I will be guided by whatever the outcomes of his investigation are. It’s not for me to be a prosecutor any more than it is for him to be a legislator.”
Despite repeated calls for comment, the Suffolk district attorney’s office would not comment on their investigation or share any details of the special agreement.
Earlier this week, John Jay LaValle, the former Brookhaven Town supervisor who became Suffolk Republican chairman in 2009 and took personal credit for persuading Levy to switch parties in 2010, announced that he is turning over the $100,000 contribution Levy just gave the GOP “on the eve of this shocking announcement.”
“It was unfair of Mr. Levy to give such a contribution, knowing it would necessarily taint the party,” LaValle said in the April 5 statement. “It’s time to remove the cloud.”
Once close allies, LaValle is putting some distance between them now.
“Steve Levy became a Republican because of our principles and ideals when it comes to taxes and spending money,” LaValle tells the Press. “He didn’t create the Republican brand. The only thing that changes is the name on the ballot. The mission remains the same.”
Without Levy in the running, LaValle thought his party’s chances might well improve this fall. In last month’s special election for the 6th Legislative District, Democrat Sarah Anker has apparently pulled off an upset over Republican Martin Haley (the unofficial tally showed her winning the heavily Republican district by 224 votes with the official results expected this week). Having Anker in the county legislature makes it easier for the Democrats to override any vetoes by the county executive.
“We fully intend on taking back the 6th District come November,” says LaValle.
LaValle had shifted the Suffolk Republican convention from May to April 6 and now back to May 25, although even that’s “not set in stone,” to give those interested in running for Levy’s position time to prepare, he explains.
“We’re in great shape,” LaValle says. “We have a very strong stable of candidates prepared to step forward and run for county executive.”
So far only Angie Carpenter, Suffolk County treasurer, has officially announced. She said she had intended to run a primary against Levy even before he dropped out. Other names mentioned include State Sen. John Flanagan (R-Northport) and Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown).