By LOUIS FLORES
There is Federal law enforcement interest in the activities of the Democratic Organization of Queens County, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. The County political party committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), has, in the last year, faced questions in the press about how three attorneys at a law firm have earned enormous profits from, or have wielded considerable influence as a result of, their close ties to the Democratic Organization of Queens County, which is sometimes referred to as the Queens Democratic County Committee.
Following a special report published in April 2017 by The New York Daily News, Progress Queens reported that Federal and Municipal prosecutors were keeping mum about revelations that the attorneys, Gerard Sweeney, Michael Reich, and Frank Bolz, were being referred cases before the Surrogate's Court, were able to gate-keep political primary races, or were able to exercise discretion over which judicial candidates received support from the County political party committee. The three attorneys are name partners with the law firm of Sweeney, Reich & Bolz, LLP. In response to The New York Daily News article, the blog, Queens Crap, published a letter in which State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) requested a Federal investigation into the questions raised in The New York Daily News exposé. Information obtained today by Progress Queens revealed for the first time that there is Federal law enforcement interest in the activities of the Democratic Organization of Queens County.
The information obtained by Progress Queens does not confirm the existence of an investigation, only that there is Federal law enforcement interest. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, which has jurisdiction over Queens, declined to make available the chief of that office's public corruption unit for a general interview for this report. Federal prosecutors have a strict policy of not acknowledging the existence of investigations. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, to which State Sen. Avella's letter was addressed, failed to answer a press inquiry for this report. The spokesperson for a Federal law enforcement agency, which typically provides investigation support to Federal prosecutors, did not immediately return a request for comment. As reported by Progress Queens, even though Federal prosecutors now face a higher standard to prove charges of corruption, the standard to open a general crimes or public corruption investigation remains low. A full investigation relating to a Federal crime may be commenced as a preliminary investigation, for which the requirement for establishing a predicate is very low or delayed, according to information obtained by Progress Queens. For this report, Lauren French, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Crowley, did not answer a press inquiry. Likewise, the Democratic Organization of Queens County did not answer a media request.
Besides the financial windfall benefiting the attorneys at Sweeney, Reich & Bolz, LLP, the Queens Democratic County Committee has been embroiled in other controversy. Its chair, U.S. Rep. Crowley, has faced questions about the role of money in his political committees and his influence over the selection of the New York City Council speaker and at least some of the Council committee chairs and central staff. Prominent real estate developers collectively made six-figure contributions to the Democratic Organization of Queens County in the time before U.S. Rep. Crowley named Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) as the new Council speaker. The real estate donations to the party committee were revealed in a report filed by the journalist Will Bredderman for Crain's New York Business. Progress Queens had independently reported that real estate donations had also flowed into U.S. Rep. Crowley's committee to reëlect during the 2016 reëlection cycle and into his Super PAC. Separately, U.S. Rep. Crowley has faced questions over payment of rent to his brother for a campaign office that is outside of his Congressional district, according to a report published by The New York Post.
Government reform activists have questioned why the autonomy of Government institutions or processes, such as the County and State court systems in Queens and the Council speaker race, have become subjugated to the Democratic Organization of Queens County. When a reform-minded political candidate, Paul Graziano, filed a civil petition in New York State Supreme Court for Queens County, alleging criminality, such as fraud and forgery, in the ballot petitioning process carried out by incumbent Councilmember Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), civic activists raised concerns over the "allegiance" that justices in the Queens County court system owed to leaders of the Queens Democratic County Committee. Tenant activists have similarly questioned the pro-landlord biases of some justices and volunteer counsel at Queens Housing Court.
On the day when Council Speaker Johnson was selected to lead the Municipal legislature, U.S. Rep. Crowley was on hand to watch the installation he reportedly made at almost his sole discretion. In a rare challenge to County political party power politics, Councilmember Inez Barron (D-East New York) put forth her own speakership nomination, saying, in relevant part, that, "Today, we have an opportunity to refuse to accept the status quo, the dictates of the bosses, the directives of the masters, the influence of croney-ism, and the machinations of backroom deals," according to the prepared remarks of her speech. To some Government reform activists, Councilmember Barron was referring to County political party leaders, such as U.S. Rep. Crowley, who were allegedly undermining the democratic functions of the City Council by preventing Municpal legislators from autonomously selecting its own leaders. Although the City Charter provides for the membership of the City Council to vote for the Council speaker, the selection process has been repeatedly undermined by outside influence.
It is not known whether, if any criminal investigation comes about as a result of the Federal law enforcement interest in the activities of the Democratic Organization of Queens County, the authorities will question the legitimacy of leadership selections made under influence that may now be viewed as suspect.
- Council speaker race candidates continue to flout 2013 guidance regarding dedicated campaign committees [Progress Queens]
- Questions about the campaign finances in Van Bramer's committee to reëlect and Council speaker race [Progress Queens]
- In speaker race, 32 City legislators pledge votes for TBA Council speaker candidate to U.S. Rep. Crowley : report [Progress Queens]
- Federal complaint filed over 2017 City Council speaker race finance questions [Progress Queens]
- Federal and Municipal prosecutors tight-lipped after exposé of Queens law firm [Progress Queens]
- Conflicts of Interest Board fines Queens Public Administrator in latest controversy at county office [Progress Queens]