Levy says Smith ‘out of control’
By Kevin E. Foley
In an unsettling turn of events for law enforcement, the Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy has pushed the feud between himself and Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith into State Supreme Court and in so doing has heated the cauldron of eastern Putnam Republican politics to the boiling point.
An angry and agitated Levy told a press conference Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 14) that Smith, the head of the county’s police force, is “out of control” and has told lies, and distorted or omitted facts all in an attempt to damage Levy’s reputation. Consequently Levy said he had filed a $5 million lawsuit against Smith. The suit seeks $3 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
Although both individuals are elected public officials, Levy said his suit was brought as a private citizen and that the matter should not involve county funds on either end.
Accompanying Levy to the meeting with the media, which was held in the conference room of a local Carmel law firm, Michael Sussman, a well-known Westchester trial attorney, said he believed the lawsuit was unprecedented in the annals of New York State jurisprudence.
The lawsuit alleges that Smith made a series of defamatory statements in March of this year related to the sheriff’s investigation into the alleged rape of a 13-year old girl in 2010. The accused, Alexandru Hossu, was a personal friend of Levy’s who on many occasions stayed overnight at his home. Levy first met Hossu at a local gym and later invited him to his home to help train Levy and his family. Levy said Hossu also served as a male nanny on occasion for his son.
At the heart of Levy’s legal complaint is the assertion that Smith falsely accused him of interfering in Smith’s investigation and also attempting to use his influence to affect the outcome of the investigation. “Sheriff Smith engaged in a pattern of malicious statements, which were intended to defame the sitting district attorney, claiming maliciously and falsely that the district attorney interfered in a serious criminal matter,” Sussman said.
Levy denies those charges completely. He also said in a statement that in the five months since Smith made his allegations about Levy, the sheriff has produced no evidence of his charges.
“There is no way, none, that I would have been able to, as the sitting DA, handle that prosecution. I followed my ethical, my legal, my moral obligations as DA, as a father, as a person who truly cares about children to make sure that there was a professional district attorney’s office available to assist Sheriff Smith and his department in the investigation of my family friend,” said Levy.
The criminal case against Hossu, charging him with two counts of rape, was ultimately brought by the Westchester District Attorney’s office. Hossu, who was subsequently found to be a 35-year old illegal immigrant from Romania, has been in the Putnam County jail (run by the sheriff) since his arrest in March.
Smith has dismissed the lawsuit as politically motivated. He has pointed out that it was filed less than a month before the Republican primary on Sept. 10. Running for a fourth term, Smith is challenged by Kevin McConville, a former chief of the MTA police. The winner of the primary will very likely be the next sheriff. There is no Democratic candidate.
“Plain and simple, this lawsuit is politically motivated, is frivolous, without any merit and will be defended vigorously in a court of law,” Smith said Wednesday, according to published reports.
“He would say that no matter when I filed the suit,” said Levy. During the press conference Levy acknowledged, however, that members of his family, including his wife, have donated a total of $5,000 to McConville’s campaign.
Christopher York, Levy’s chief assistant, was a candidate for sheriff earlier in the year but withdrew in favor of McConville. Levy admitted he would have supported York to the fullest extent his office allowed.
Hossu residential address big issue
According to Levy, Smith deliberately misled the media in asserting that Hossu lived at Levy’s home in Southeast at the time of the investigation and arrest in March. This lead, according to Levy, the son of Judy Sheindlin, star of the long-running court room television show “Judge Judy,” to a media frenzy at his home, including helicopters hovering overhead.
At the press conference Levy said that Smith obtained an arrest warrant for Hossu using his address at Clock Tower Commons in Brewster, which is also where Hossu was arrested.
Levy said that over a period of time between 2011 and 2012 Hossu did stay at his home a number of times in a guest wing because he had struck up a relationship with the Levy family’s nanny. But that ended when Levy’s father retired since the wing was originally built for his father to live in. Levy said Hossu always maintained the Clock Tower Commons address.
When he was elected district attorney in 2008 Levy said that he tried to develop a good working relationship with Smith and his team. “I had some good ideas or at least I thought so.” But over time as he pressed Smith on a few issues such as video taping suspect interviews and not using sheriff’s deputies to prosecute parking violations at hearings (to avoid overtime) Smith began to change. “His demeanor became more political in nature.”
Levy said he offered to sit down with Smith and try to iron out their differences. “But for reasons only known to Don, he refused.”
Despite the intense acrimony between the county’s top cop and chief prosecutor, Levy said their respective offices were nevertheless conducting business professionally.
Asked by The Paper if he had contacted or contemplated contacting the Governor’s office or the New York State Attorney General to request an investigation of Smith, Levy said he couldn’t comment on those offices except to say he knew they were aware of what was happening.