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Legislative, Law Enforcement on Ballots

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Voters will decide dozens of pivotal local races across the East End in the upcoming elections, including two Suffolk County legislative seats and a pair of key countywide law enforcement leadership posts.

Among the Hamptons and North Fork races to watch are Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) running for re-election against Republican challenger Robert J. Carpenter III, and Suffolk Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) in a rematch against GOP candidate Remy Bell. Topping the ticket will be Democratic Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini facing GOP rival Raymond Tierney, a former federal and county prosecutor. And Democratic Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon has a challenge from Republican William Amato.

Also up this election cycle are all 18 county legislative seats and a plethora of town-level contests. Local judicial races will also be on ballots, but local Democratic and Republican leaders largely cross-endorse each other’s candidates in these races well before the elections, leaving voters no real choice other than a longshot write-in candidate. 

KRUPSKI V. BELL

Krupski, the first farmer elected to the county legislature — he runs Krupski’s Pumpkin Farm in Cutchogue — draws on his decades of experience as a former Southold town trustee and board member as representative of the county’s first legislative district, which covers the North Fork.

As chair of the public works committee, he is running for his fourth full term after first winning his seat in a 2013 special election. Representing the legislature’s most rural district, his priorities include open space preservation, improving water quality, maintaining county services and protecting the region’s agricultural industry.

“Less than 2% of the population farms in this country, but you need to have that land available,” Krupski says. “We need to as a nation produce our own food, so we have our own food security, but it’s become more of a challenge as less and less people actually farm.”

Bell, a former Riverhead GOP chair, Suffolk Board of Elections clerk and perennial candidate who’s repeatedly challenged Krupski, among others, did not respond to requests for comment.

“The environment is the number one issue,” Bell told The Suffolk Times in 2015. “We also have to look at bringing better paying jobs to the North Fork and the entire legislative district so young people can stay here and afford to live here.”

FLEMING V. CARPENTER

Fleming, an ex-Manhattan prosecutor and former Southampton town board member who chairs the legislature’s powerful ways and means committee, is seeking a fourth term representing the second legislative district, which spans the South Fork.

She touts her efforts to replace outdated septic systems that contribute to harmful brown tides, increase public transportation options and manage the tick population as credentials she believes are reasons that voters should re-elect her.

“My primary focus for so many years has been on protecting and defending our natural environment,” says Fleming. “I will continue to work hard on the challenges that we’re facing because of climate change from both mitigating impacts with coastal resiliency … but then also doing what we can to prevent the increase of climate change [by] increasing our renewable energy portfolio.”

Fleming is also seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2022 race to replace U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is likely vacating his congressional district representing the entire East End now that he’s the GOP frontrunner in next year’s gubernatorial race in which he’s seeking to oust Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul. It’s Fleming’s second bid for Zeldin’s seat.

Carpenter did not respond to requests for comment.

The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and North Fork has scheduled a Zoom debate between Carpenter and Fleming for 7 p.m. October 18. It will also air on SEA-TV Southampton’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/c/SeaTVSouthampton.

Ray Tierney held a press conference outside the Suffolk DA’s office in Hauppauge on September 8.
Ray Tierney held a press conference outside the Suffolk DA’s office in Hauppauge on September 8.

SINI V. TIERNEY

Sini, the county’s first-term district attorney who was elected with a mandate to reform the office as his predecessor Tom Spota was convicted of corruption, is seeking re-election against Tierney, a former prosecutor who questions if Sini is up for the job.

Sini is a former commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department and ex-federal prosecutor who has overseen high-profile cases against the notoriously violent MS-13 street gang and the District Attorney’s East End Drug Task Force and launched the office’s first-ever conviction integrity bureau. But Tierney says Sini’s office blew a chance to arrest the alleged drug dealers accused of selling the fentanyl-laced cocaine that authorities blamed for causing a half dozen fatal overdoses on the North Fork this summer — arrests, Tierney argues, could have been made before the fatalities. 

“Tim Sini had at least four opportunities in the past 10 months to put [the suspected dealers] behind bars on felony charges and he failed to act,” Tierney told reporters during a news conference in September, arguing that authorities had probable cause to arrest the suspects before the overdoses.

Sini countered that Tierney is distorting the facts of the cases and blamed judges for rebuffing prosecutors’ requests to impose high bail that would have kept the suspects off of the streets prior to the overdoses. Tierney had also taken issue with New York State’s bail reform, which has resulted in some cases of recidivists committing additional offenses at a time when they would have previously been jailed pending trial on their initial charges.

“Our mission is to make our office a national model, to seek justice in every single case and to make Suffolk County as safe as possible,” Sini says. “We’ve accomplished all of this, despite the fact that we came into an office that was a mess, we saw the biggest change to criminal procedure law in a generation, and we had the pandemic. But despite these challenges, we’re getting the people’s work done.”

TOULON V. AMATO

The district attorney’s race isn’t the only countywide law enforcement post with implications for the East End that will appear on ballots this fall: So is the Suffolk Sheriff’s seat, which is headquartered in Riverhead.

First-term Sheriff Toulon, the first Black man to lead the office, is a seasoned corrections professional who oversees the care and custody of hundreds of people incarcerated at county jails in Riverhead and Yaphank. His deputies and officers also carry out evictions, enforce court orders, and patrol courthouse grounds, among other duties. But managing the jail amid the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the biggest challenge of his term.

His opponent, Amato, could not be reached for comment and is reportedly not actively campaigning for office.

Election Day falls on November 2 this year and the early voting period runs from October 23–31.

To find your polling place, visit suffolkcountyny.gov


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Insurance magnate wins new trial on bribery and fraud charges

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  • N.C. insurance commissioner recorded conversations with the exec as part of FBI sting operation
  • Appeals court faults a jury instruction about which both parties complained

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court has thrown out the 2020 bribery and fraud conspiracy convictions of insurance magnate Greg Lindberg and also consultant John Gray, who were caught on tape offering North Carolina’s insurance commissioner up to $2 million to replace the deputy in charge of monitoring Lindberg’s companies.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said the trial judge improperly lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof by telling the jury that the staffing change was an “official act” – one of the elements of the fraud conspiracy charge.

Both the prosecution and defense attorneys had objected to the jury instruction, and with good reason, Chief Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote: the U.S. Supreme Court “clearly” considers the question of what constitutes an official act to be one for the jury.

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On appeal, the government argued the error was harmless. The 4th Circuit said it directly affected the fraud count and may have “effortlessly bled” into the jury’s consideration of the bribery count, requiring a new trial on both charges.

Lindberg, serving an 87-month sentence, said through a spokesman that he is “deeply grateful” to the 4th Circuit.

“The Court made clear that the trial court violated my Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights under the Constitution,” the statement said.

Gray’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte had no immediate response.

According to the opinion, Lindberg is the founder of the investment company now known as Global Growth Holdings and the owner of Global Bankers Insurance Group and several insurance companies.

Shortly after Mike Causey was elected insurance commissioner in 2016, Lindberg – who had supported his opponent – began making or offering large contributions to Causey’s reelection campaign, the opinion said.

Causey rejected the contributions, expressed “concern” about them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and later agreed to cooperate in a sting operation. In a conversation recorded as part of the sting, he agreed to replace the regulator in charge of Lindberg’s accounts in exchange for $500,000 to be channeled through the North Carolina Republican Party.

Lindberg, Gray, and then-party chairman Robin Hayes were charged with the “honest-services” fraud conspiracy and bribery after the party contributed $250,000. Hayes admitted lying to the FBI as part of a 2019 plea deal.

In an emailed statement, Causey declined to comment on the prospect of new trials for Lindberg and Gray, “other than to say that I look forward to continuing to cooperate with law enforcement.”

The case is USA v. Lindberg and USA v. Gray, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Nos. 20-4470 and 20-4473.

For the USA: Amy Elizabeth Ray and William Stetzer, Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina

For Lindberg: Howard Rubin and Robert Smith Sr. of Katten Muchin Rosenman; Josh Rosenkranz and Joey Kolker of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

For Gray: David Brown Sr of Flannery Georgalis; Howard Rubin of Katten Muchin Rosenman

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Court Orders New Trial for Insurance Exec Convicted of Bribing NC Commissioner

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New You can now listen to Insurance Journal articles!

It may seem a minor point to some, but it’s fundamental to the American system of justice, advocates said: It’s up to a jury – not a judge – to decide what is considered an “official act” by a state insurance commissioner or other elected official who’s been offered an alleged bribe.

“It’s a complete violation of the constitution. The judge is not the tryer of facts,” said attorney Hank Asbill, who helped write an amicus brief in the appeal of Greg Lindberg, a North Carolina insurance entrepreneur who was convicted of attempting to bribe the state’s insurance commissioner in 2018.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday agreed with Asbill and ordered a new trial for Lindberg and his co-defendant John Gray. The court found that the lower court judge had erred in his instructions to the jury that replacing a deputy insurance commissioner with one more favorable to Lindberg’s business investments was an official act.

The term is considered a key part of the federal law that defines what constitutes bribery and what’s known as honest services fraud.

Causey

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, who triggered the investigation into Lindberg when he reported Lindberg’s offers to the FBI, then recorded conversations with the businessman, declined to talk about the turn of events Thursday.

“Since I anticipate that I would be asked to testify again, I have no comment on the matter at this time other than to say that I look forward to continuing to cooperate with law enforcement,” Causey said in a statement.

Lindberg, once head of several insurance companies, including Southland National Insurance and Southland National Reinsurance, along with investment firms, has served 21 months of a 7-year sentence. His attorneys have asked the court to release him on bond. Federal prosecutors have until mid-July to respond. A date for a new trial has not been set.

Lindberg said in a statement that he could not describe “the challenges of being separated from family and friends, from the work I care about and the communities I work closely with.” He said that he has been teaching other inmates business courses during his sentence, according to state news reports.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of North Carolina could not be reached for comment, nor could the former prosecutor in the case, William Stetzer, now a county attorney in Gaston County, near Charlotte.

Lindberg (Robert Brown Public Relations/Greg Lindberg via AP, File)

In ordering a new trial, the appellate court relied on a similar high-profile case, that of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell was convicted in 2014 on charges of illegally accepting gifts and loans from a Virginia company. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 overturned the conviction, deciding that prosecutors had overreached in claiming that the governor had performed official acts in return for the gifts.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the McDonnell decision. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.”

The amicus brief in that case, which supported the “official act” argument, was written by Asbill and other attorneys with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The organization may be better known for its pro-bono work in blue-collar criminal cases, in working to overturn erroneous convictions, and in addressing systemic racism in the legal system. But Virginia attorney David Smith, who works with the NACDL, said the group also intervenes on behalf of many white-collar defendants in cases that involve overreach by prosecutors and over-criminalization of defendants’ actions.

The courts in the McDonnell case and in the Lindberg appeal help limit overly broad interpretations of criminal actions and they correctly focused on the importance of what an official act is, Asbill said.

Asbill

The North Carolina appellate decision “is broader than what happened to Lindberg,” Asbill said Thursday. If the district court’s jury instructions had been allowed to stand, “it would have set a terrible precedent that judges can make decisions for the jury.”

“Without the ‘official act’ requirement, constituents could be prosecuted for small campaign contributions if they expressed opinions to an elected official on any non-trivial project such as a plant closing or the restoration of power after a storm,” reads the Lindberg amicus brief from the NACDL.

The 4th Circuit’s opinion, nonetheless, laid out a compelling account of Lindberg’s and Gray’s actions that led to the investigation and convictions.

The story began in 2015, just before Causey was elected insurance commissioner. Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Obusek, a 20-year veteran of the department, had expressed concerns about some of Lindberg’s business practices, noting that Lindberg’s insurance companies had made an inordinate amount of investments in his affiliated companies.

“Insurance regulators monitor affiliated investments because they are seen as illiquid and, therefore, can limit the ability of an insurance company to pay policyholders,” 4th Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote.

Prior to 2019, North Carolina law did not limit the amount of affiliate investments of regulated companies, but the Department of Insurance had the authority to impose such limits on its own. After Causey was elected, he promoted Obusek to a senior deputy commissioner position. Within weeks, Lindberg donated $10,000 to Causey’s campaign, then another $500,000 to the North Carolina Republican Party, with $110,000 of that to be sent to Causey’s campaign treasury.

Related: NC Judge Orders Lindberg to Give Up Control of Firms to Repay Insurers

Causey testified that he would not accept the money, and he reached out to the FBI. The commissioner then recorded subsequent talks with Lindberg and his associates, the court explained. At one point, Lindberg and Gray expressed their dissatisfaction with Obusek and urged Causey to replace her with John Palermo, vice president at Eli Global, one of Lindberg’s companies.

When Causey balked at that, Lindberg requested another employee at the department. Over several meetings, Lindberg discussed donating as much as $2 million to Causey’s reelection campaign. Causey, with recording device rolling, agreed to the staff change. A few months later, Lindberg and Gray were charged with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and bribery.

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Video of biker “making away without paying” Padma Bridge toll goes viral

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Toll plaza authorities deny this happened

Photo: Screengrab of the video

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biker making away without paying

Photo: Screengrab of the video

A video of a motorbike making away without paying toll at Padma Bridge has gone viral on social media.

This correspondent, however, could not confirm whether the incident happened at Mawa Toll Plaza in Munshiganj or Shariatpur’s Jazira Toll Plaza. The authorities of the two toll plazas have denied that this incident happened.

In the video, it is seen that on the night of June 26, 2022, the motorbike approached the toll plaza booth. The toll collector was ready to give the token to the biker, but the latter sped away without paying.  

The toll plaza staff could not stop the biker as he was inside the booth. There were no security guards to stop the motorcycle either.

Seeking anonymity, a toll collector working at Mawa Toll Plaza said that on June 26, when Padma Bridge was opened to traffic, there was a rush of motorbikes. Many bikers were gathering in front of the toll plaza. Staff members were having a difficult time getting them to stop to pay toll.

Tofazzal Hossain, supervising engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Department at Mawa Toll Plaza, told The Daily Star that there is no scope to enter the bridge without paying toll. On the first day, there was a lot of pressure of motorbikes, “but I was in the toll plaza, and I didn’t see any speed away without paying. If anyone tries to cross the bridge without paying toll, they are immediately caught by the security personnel.”

He said work is underway to install CCTV cameras at Mawa Toll Plaza.

Abul Hossain, supervising engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Department at Jazira Toll Plaza, said that on June 26, bikers paid toll with much enthusiasm. Many of them took pictures of paying toll and uploaded those on Facebook.

The two officials claimed that entering the bridge without paying toll, as being claimed in the viral video, is not true.




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