June 8, 2023

Break The Circle Of Influence by Joye Brown (Newsday)

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A report in Sunday’s Newsday offered up plentiful new fodder for the federal grand jury in Brooklyn to consider as it delves into allegations of corruption in Suffolk County.

The report — which documented a series of disturbing connections involving two Suffolk Supreme Court justices, a Huntington Town council member, a political party leader and a variety of other politically connected players, most notably Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius, — kicked up more than enough dirt for other agencies to sift through too.

A complaint to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct could kick-start a hard look at Justices Thomas Whelan and Emily Pines.

According to the Newsday report, Whelan and Pines violated court rules designed to promote transparency and limit cronyism while awarding at least $600,000 in fees and expenses to Melius and a network of his associates.

The payouts came after Melius and his associates were appointed to serve as property managers for at least four foreclosed properties.

Another state court agency, the Inspector General for Fiduciary Appointments — which handles complaints about court appointments — might be interested in records obtained by Newsday showing how Melius and others skirted court rules on appointments.

Court rules bar an individual or entity from taking more than one appointment a year if compensation from any single one is more than $15,000. But, Newsday reported, Melius’ daughter and former son-in-law skirted the rule by using another Oheka Castle employee as project manager. That maneuver netted them at least three appointments in 2012 that totaled roughly $200,000, 13 times the cap.

There’s also plenty for the Suffolk district attorney’s office to consider, including bills for work on properties that could not be verified. Even, in one case, by the company that did the work.

Then there’s Huntington Town council member Mark Cuthbertson. Cuthbertson, a Democrat, said he saw no conflict in sponsoring and voting for a zoning change to allow condominium construction at Oheka. That was the same week he was working with Melius and his daughter on two court-appointed receiverships.

Taken together, the Newsday story detailed a closed, tight circle where reward, enrich and obfuscate seemed to be the goal. Everyone except Pines, who acknowledged making mistakes, appeared stubbornly oblivious to what really was going on.

It is yet another look at how the sausage gets made on Long Island, where the intersection of power, politics and patronage now can be traced up and into the judicial system.

Article originally ran in Long Island Newsday

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