Like ‘pulling wings off flies’
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Withstanding impassioned pleas, the Putnam County Legislature Wednesday night (Nov. 6) refused to join the increasingly messy fracas over county District Attorney Adam Levy, who is under scrutiny for his conduct in the case of a friend accused of raping a teenager.
For months, Levy’s situation has drawn attention across the county and beyond, with a vitriolic spat (replete with a defamation lawsuit) between Levy and county Sheriff Donald Smith and claims about the rape suspect and of Levy’s own moves vying for attention. Levy’s critics contend he improperly interceded in proceedings involving his friend, Alexandru Hossu, a physical fitness trainer, accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in 2010.
The latest rounds of controversy include a dispute between Smith and Levy over whose department should house a county investigative position – Levy ultimately won, but only after the Legislature stepped in – and threats of prosecution of Levy by the Westchester County district attorney following reports that Levy meddled with a secret grand jury probe into the Hossu affair. Westchester County took over the rape case last spring.
Legislator Sam Oliverio, from Putnam Valley, wanted his colleagues to ask New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state attorney general to investigate Levy. Aware that “I could not get a second” on a resolution urging Cuomo to act, Oliverio announced that he would present his arguments in a letter as a private citizen and encouraged his colleagues to endorse it as individuals.
That caused a ruckus that drew in State Sen. Greg Ball, whose district includes part of Putnam County (though not Philipstown). Ball attended the meeting a few days after requesting that Cuomo seek a state investigation of Levy.
“The accusations that are flying, the allegations, are putting our county in a very bad light,” Oliverio said. “We need to have this cleared up,” by a state-initiated “thorough investigation to either exonerate the man or if some malfeasance occurred then do what the state needs to do. I think it’s our responsibility, most certainly, to the people that elected us to say, ‘let’s end this.’ To say nothing and just let this roll along is like pulling wings off of flies. It’s torture. And it will go on until the state hears enough that they get their wheels in action. I feel it’s our responsibility,” he emphasized. “I feel that very strongly.”
Speaking up from the back of the room, Ball, too, implored the legislators to demand state action. “Anything short of that is a dereliction of duty and your responsibility as legislators,” he said.
However, several other legislators recommended restraint.
The Levy mess “is still going to take time. I don’t think we can speed it up. It’s going to take its legal course,” said Carl Albano, of District 5. “Another letter is just going to add to it, more tension.”
Legislature Chairman Richard Othmer voiced a reluctance his colleagues seemed to share. “I don’t want to say anything,” he acknowledged. “I think it should go to a higher level, to the governor.” When Oliverio replied that taking a stand would move things along, Othmer added: “I think it’s going that way anyway.”
The chairman also expressed frustration at both the continuing Smith-Levy hostility and Levy’s unique predicament. “I was given the task of voting a position out of the sheriff’s office and in the district attorney’s office,” he said. “I couldn’t care less who the DA is or the sheriff is. I was very angry that those things were put on my table and on this legislative table and we had to make those decisions. I wish they had worked it out on their own.”
Philipstown’s representative, District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, assured Oliverio she understands his concern. “I have great respect for Adam Levy and respect for the sheriff, but their behavior in the past year has been disappointing to say the least,” she said. The Levy situation “is going to resolve itself. It’s going to come to a head soon,” she added. “I believe Adam Levy will make the right decision for Putnam County.”