Federal and Municipal prosecutors tight-lipped after exposé of Queens law firm

By LOUIS FLORES

Nearly one week after a special report was published by The New York Daily News, raising questions about the political influence wielded by a Queens law firm, Sweeney, Reich & Bolz, LLP, the top prosecutors with jurisdiction over Queens remained mum about whether the report will trigger any investigations. According to the report, three attorneys at the firm earn enormous profits from, or wield considerable influence as a result of, their connections to the Queens County Democratic Committee.

Left to Right : Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde, the top Federal prosecutor for New York's eastern district, and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The offices of the top prosecutors with direct jurisdiction over Queens declined to answer questions about an exposé published by The New York Daily News, which raised questions about the influence being exerted by a politically-connected Queens law firm. Source : LinkedIn/Fair Use and Queens District Attorney's Office/Public Domain

Left to Right : Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde, the top Federal prosecutor for New York's eastern district, and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The offices of the top prosecutors with direct jurisdiction over Queens declined to answer questions about an exposé published by The New York Daily News, which raised questions about the influence being exerted by a politically-connected Queens law firm. Source : LinkedIn/Fair Use and Queens District Attorney's Office/Public Domain

Last week, the press offices for each of Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde, who is the top Federal prosecutor for New York's eastern district, and District Attorney Richard Brown (D-Queens) declined to answer advance questions submitted for this report.

The special investigation published by The New York Daily News raised questions about how the attorneys, Gerard Sweeney, Michael Reich, and Frank Bolz, are referred cases before the Surrogate's Court, are able to gate-keep political primary races, or are able to exercise discretion over which judicial candidates receive support from the county committee.

On Sunday, the blog, Queens Crap, published a letter in which State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) requested a Federal investigation into the questions being raised in The New York Daily News exposé. State Sen. Avella sent his letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan. That Federal prosecutors' office does not have direct jurisdiction over Queens ; the one that does is the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is headquartered in Brooklyn and which is headed by Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde. Until recently, the Manhattan Federal prosecutors' office almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted alleged instances of political and campaign corruption. For years, Progress Queens has submitted questions to the press office of then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who formerly headed the Federal prosecutors' office in Manhattan, requesting information about policies and procedures, which would explain why prosecutors with jurisdiction over Queens would not investigate political or campaign corruption in Queens. However, no policies or procedures were ever provided that would explain these circumstances. Research conducted by Progress Queens later revealed that a manual applicable to Federal prosecutors acknowledges that the investigation and prosecution of significant Government officials may pose a problem for Municipal prosecutors.

State Sen. Avella did not answer a request for an interview for this report, but, to some Government reform activists, the fact that he addressed his letter to the top Federal prosecutor in Manhattan revealed some acknowledgement that perhaps the Queens County District Attorney's Office would be unable to investigate the questions raised in the exposé. As reported by Progress Queens, in order to first run for office -- and to keep running for reëlection -- the Queens District Attorney must run with the approval of the chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee. This is due to the fact that the Democratic Party is the dominant force in Queens politics. Conflicts of interest for the Queens District Attorney may also arise through the various campaign consultants and lobbyists employed by other politicians, who share such relationships with the chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee, some Government reform activists say. The chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee is U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens). In the past, for example, Rep. Crowley has employed the services of The Parkside Group, a group, which, in the past, has also provided campaign services to other top Queens politicians.

Efforts to pass reforms in Albany are complicated by the relationships between State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), and the power-sharing agreement between Republicans and some Democrats affiliated with the Independent Democratic Conference in the New York State Senate. Proposals for ethics reforms have not reportedly included provisions that would improve the independence of Municipal prosecutors. Despite seemingly never-ending corruption scandals, State officials refuse to enact ethics reforms.

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