Compares recorded phone call to Watergate

By Chip Rowe and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Kevin McConville, a former chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority police force who hopes on Nov. 2 to become the next Putnam County sheriff, last week accused his opponent, incumbent Robert Langley Jr., of violating the county ethics code and state laws.

McConville, a Republican, called on the county district attorney and state attorney general to investigate Langley, a Democrat in his first term, for allegedly committing four misdemeanors — including “official misconduct” — by discussing his reelection campaign with a town supervisor while on duty and during a call made with his county-issued phone.

The allegations arose from a conversation on Aug. 30 between Langley and Carmel Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt, who has served seven terms but lost in the Republican primary in June.

A recording appeared on Sept. 29 on a Facebook page, the Putnam County Watchdog Report, which said it was obtained “as part of a series of sweeping FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] requests.” McConville charged that the sheriff tipped off his supporters about the call. 

The FOIL request, which The Current obtained through a FOIL request, was made by Erin Crowley, who ran as a Republican for the Carmel Town Council this year but finished third in a four-person primary; she requested “all phone conversations between Sheriff Langley and Carmel supervisor Schmitt from 8/30 to 9/8/2021.” According to financial disclosure records, she has donated $1,690 to the sheriff’s campaign.

At the beginning of the call, which lasted 18 minutes and 40 seconds, Schmitt told Langley: “I’m very confident you’re going to win reelection. I believe that the voters see that you know how you’ve been working, that you’ve been doing a great job, and that you have everybody’s best interests at heart.” 

He added: “If the voters didn’t support you, it would be doing an injustice to the county…. I’m not going to be doing anything for the McConville campaign at all. There’s reasons why I’m not. But I’m letting you know that I’m out, as far as, you know, helping Kevin do anything at all.” 

What was said? Read a transcript of the call.

Schmitt expressed bitterness that he had been challenged in the Republican primary by a former Carmel police chief who won 65 percent of the vote, and described being asked by McConville to join his campaign committee, only to be shunned after he lost the primary. He also suggested that after his term in Carmel ends Dec. 31, “there’ll be something for me” and that he might even “come up and work for the Langley administration.”

Once the recording became public, Schmitt changed his mind and endorsed McConville, posting a photo on his personal Facebook page showing him shaking McConville’s hand.

McConville and Schmitt
On Sept. 29, Carmel supervisor Ken Schmitt posted a photo of himself on Facebook with McConville, offering his endorsement.

In a phone interview on Wednesday (Oct. 20), Schmitt attributed his 180-degree turn to what he considers Langley’s involvement in disseminating the recording. 

“It was the act of releasing the conversation,” he said. “That’s where the problem lies, not in the conversation [itself].” He said Langley should have talked to him on a personal cellphone, not a county-provided one on which calls are recorded, or shut down the discussion when politics came up. 

“The conversation was 100 percent political,” Schmitt asserted. “My support of the sheriff has ended, because what he did is despicable, underhanded and something that never should have happened. My support is completely behind Kevin McConville. He’s a man of integrity, of honor, of dignity. He’s a man you can respect. And you can trust him.” 

In a news release and campaign event Oct. 15 at the historic Old Putnam County Courthouse in Carmel, McConville characterized the Schmitt-Langley exchange as “entirely political in nature” and “a discussion of the election for sheriff, political support, and potential employment as a reward for political support.”

During the call, Langley did not respond to Schmitt’s speculation about a future job in the Sheriff’s Department. 

On Oct. 16, Langley posted the audio recording on his campaign’s Facebook page. In a statement, he said he wanted to “clear the air” about the conversation, dismissing McConville’s descriptions of the call as a “hyperbolic and false characterization” and declaring that “there was no violation of public trust and no unethical conduct.” 

mcconville announcement
Kevin McConville announced his campaign for sheriff on Feb. 4 on the steps of the Putnam County Historic Courthouse in Carmel. The county clerk, county executive and Republican members of the Legislature stand behind him. (Campaign photo)

The sheriff had phoned Schmitt after he was told the supervisor wanted to talk to him. “I was not informed of the reason for the request and I had no idea what the purpose of the call was,” Langley said in his statement. “I have known Mr. Schmitt for many years in a professional capacity and I assumed that the requested phone call was for a professional purpose.”

He added: “Although some politics were discussed, the nature of the call was not ‘political in nature,’ in my mind.”

McConville on Sept. 30 compared the phone conversation to Watergate and alleged it was “so unethical it would make President Nixon and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover blush.”

“The citizens need to know why the chief law enforcement officer of Putnam County is secretly recording and releasing taped conversations with their elected officials,” he argued.

New York State law permits phone calls to be recorded by one party without the consent of the other. In his statement, Langley said all calls made on his county-issued phone, with some exceptions, are recorded by the Sheriff’s Department, and that recording calls is a standard practice for police departments. Both McConville and Schmitt, a former Carmel police officer, should have been aware of that, he said.

By releasing the recording under FOIL, McConville said, the Sheriff’s Department acknowledged the conversation “was an official government record of the Sheriff’s Office, and not a personal phone call,” and that Langley spoke with Schmitt “to gather campaign material.”

McConville called on Putnam County and state prosecutors to investigate Langley for crimes that included “conspiring to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.”

Robert Tendy, the Putnam County district attorney, a Republican like McConville, did not respond to a request for comment.

Langley said in his statement that he plays no role in FOIL releases and that the recording was not posted by “political operatives” because he does not have any. “I have a family, a job and a small group of grassroots volunteers, friends and supporters,” he wrote. “Only those who are constantly campaigning for someone else’s job have political operatives.”

On Oct. 16, on his campaign Facebook page, the sheriff attempted to turn the conversation back to McConville, writing: “It would seem some people are trying to make something out of nothing with standard operating procedures and legally required responses under FOIL requests. There was nothing nefarious…. Perhaps the question that should be asked is: ‘Why won’t Kevin McConville sign a release to the nondisclosure agreement in a lawsuit resulting from his personal misconduct with MTA employees?’ Asking for a friend.”

In August 2015, the MTA paid $1.2 million to settle a 2007 lawsuit brought by 10 black and Hispanic officers who said they had been subjected to racial discrimination. 

The lawsuit named the agency, its directors, McConville and his top deputy. With the settlement, the MTA admitted no wrongdoing; the plaintiffs were required to sign nondisclosure agreements. McConville left the MTA in 2008 before spending 12 years as the director of security for NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A former longtime national magazine editor, Rowe has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Idaho and South Dakota and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. Location: Philipstown. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

11 replies on “Challenger Accuses Sheriff of Misconduct”

  1. So, to sum up, a Republican town supervisor makes a call to [Democratic] Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. and makes all sorts of inappropriate political statements, another failed Republican candidate knows to make a Freedom of Information Law request for this call, and the Republican opposition candidate points to this “scandal” as being “worse than Watergate,” and we’re supposed to believe this wasn’t a coordinated smear campaign?

    This is a distraction from the actual records and positions of the two candidates, only one of whom has been sued for civil-rights violations and alleged racial discrimination against employees under his watch.

  2. Gah, McConville has a distorted sense of perspective. Does our aspiring sheriff not know that phone recording is legal in New York? Just one person need consent, and Robert clearly does. That simply makes his…”analogy”….puff out of logic. We could use a real sheriff in this county.

  3. After two unsuccessful tries for the office of sheriff [in 2009 as a Democrat and 2013 as a Republican], McConville lifted his finger and the party vane twirled expediently: Republican. Will the real McConville please stand up?

  4. I’m a registered independent. I have always gravitated to pragmatic mix-and-match policy planning (political, school board, work rules, etc.). Why does the sheriff’s office have a political party identity? In 2017, Sheriff Don Smith was voted out not because there was some “liberal takeover” of Putnam, but rather because of the expensive result of his “scandal.” And yet, a day or two before Election Day, the Young Republicans of Putnam endorsed Smith. What thinking person could find such a move as ethically logical? Spare me the “you-don’t-really-know-how-wronged-Smith-was.” He lied, we paid, it’s over.

    Now this kinda bizarre, kinda sad shenanigans to portray Sheriff Langley as an unethical deviant for returning a call to a work associate about work while at work. Who is guiding this waste of time and energy? Everyone except Langley comes off as shifty crackpots. Law enforcement is important and difficult work. Support the Sheriff’s Department regardless of party affiliation, because if I ever need to call 911, I’m not actually calling a Republican or a Democrat for help.

  5. The whole exchange says way more about McConville than it does about Langley. Republicans playing games because they can’t attack Langley on his record. Sad.

  6. A more relevant comparison is not one with Watergate but the Trump Ukrainian call which for weeks brought the moralistic ire of Democrats and the media front and center. Nothing there and nothing here, Mr. McConville and supporters.

  7. Anyone with common sense can see what went on here. Democrat Langley informed his campaign team of a conversation he had with a Republican supervisor and told them the specific timeframe to FOIL so they can retrieve the audiotape to use for political gain. How could anyone know of the private conversation if Langley did not inform them?

    This was clearly a “political hit” by a Democratic sheriff to shame and embarrass a sitting supervisor in the Republican Party. Shame on Langley. This is despicable and unethical behavior. Watergate showed that Nixon could not be trusted and Langley-gate is showing the people of Putnam County that Sheriff Langley cannot be trusted.

    Please join me in voting for Republican Kevin McConville, who has 30 years of experience in law enforcement and is a re-tired chief of police at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Kevin will restore integrity and respect to the office.

  8. Can Kevin McConville not find anything of substance to use against Sheriff Langley in his bid for the sheriff’s seat? And would he have us believe this charge is best described as “Putnam County’s version of Watergate”?

    If he wants to be taken seriously, McConville should tell us how he can improve Putnam County’s law enforcement agency, instead of using baseless allegations to besmirch his opponent.

  9. Langley didn’t say much of anything on the call, certainly nothing inappropriate or political. It was Schmitt who seemed to be baiting him and it was Schmitt who requested the call. [via Facebook]

  10. Such irresponsible, shoddy work by The Current. Anyone can ask the district attorney to investigate a political opponent. Doesn’t make it news. [via Instagram]

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