Rockland County Times stands by stance on Sparaco case

Unusual measures were taken by DA’s Office to ensure plea deal 

This past August the Rockland County Times penned an editorial claiming the law appeared to be on Legislator Frank Sparaco’s side regarding a housing arrangement between himself and his cousins, assuming Sparaco was not lying about the nature of the housing agreement.  Sparaco had enrolled his cousins to vote in Rockland County and run for committee seats, causing much controversy.

This week he pled guilty to misdemeanor charges that the arrangement was a sham. Some have asked that the Rockland County Times to retract the article and apologize to blogger Michael Hull, whom the newspaper accused of exaggeration.

Until the DA’s Office releases evidence in the case, the newspaper finds no reason to abdicate our stance. Furthermore, the editorial board believes it is likely that the District Attorney’s Office overextended its power to gain a plea in the Sparaco case through unethical harassment and threats of the defendant.

Here is what we knew in August: The law states that persons with multiple addresses can register to vote at any address they please so long as they actually live there. Numerous officials in Rockland County have taken advantage of this rule, including a Board of Elections Commissioner, the highest authority of electoral administration in the county.

Sparaco’s decision to run his quasi-transient cousins as town committeemen was politically dubious, but there was no reason to assume it was illegal. Furthermore, a Sheriff’s Department survey of the home indicated evidence that the cousins held part-time residence at the location.

Ultimately the voters rejected Sparaco, his cousins and other Sparaco allies as Republican representatives on the committee in a tsunami led by County Executive Ed Day, who was been drawn into the fight by Sparaco’s incessant barbing of him. Sparaco’s long-held position that it was virtually impossible to change power within a party committee was proven as ill-thought out as his prior prediction and bet that it was impossible for Ed Day to defeat the Democratic candidate in the 2013 county executive election.

Sparaco was served his just political desserts, but that was not enough for many people.

Whipped up by Michael Hull’s reporting on the Rockland Voice blog, hundreds, perhaps thousands of persons hoped to see Sparaco arrested for his campaign tactics during the committee race. The DA complied, afraid of a group of voters who would react hostilely to his impending 2015 run for office if he did not prosecute Sparaco. This group’s likely opposition to Zugibe is especially true in light of Zugibe’s fealty to the New Square and Monsey bloc vote, which made his 2007 election possible in the first place.

Thus, Zugibe threw the crowd Sparaco as a sacrifice, filing highly tenuous charges against him. Particularly tenuous were the felony accusations against Sparaco, over 30 of them pertaining to claims that his cousins did not live at his house at all and that two Brega employees improperly enrolled at their work address under Sparaco’s guidance.

Sparaco has provided ample evidence of his cousins’ part-time residence, while Zugibe has offered nothing to the public to prove his case. Zugibe forced Sparaco to plead that his cousins never lived there, something he probably knows to be a lie.

In the DA’s own press release, released when Sparaco was arrested this fall, he said Sparaco either moved the cousins for political reasons or they did not live there at all. The felony charges against Sparaco pertained to false instruments, meaning claims that his cousins and the Brega employees lived at ghost addresses.

But he said in his own press release, he did not know. If that is not reasonable doubt, what is?

The Brega addresses in question were simply thrown out by the Board of Elections, as happens hundreds of times every year. They never existed in any substantive form.

It is possible that Sparaco moved his cousins to his house solely for political reasons, which would be categorized as a misdemeanor by law, not the felony Zugibe needed. But the DA had no case to go on for felony charges, as many people inside and outside Rockland County told the Rockland County Times, including enemies of Frank Sparaco.

So, what did he do? He threatened to arrest half his family and leave him destitute and likely divorced. After this pathetic tactic, Zugibe was able to gain a misdemeanor plea agreement.

We further would like to remind our readers that this is the same Tom Zugibe who committed one of the most egregious acts of chicanery in recent years, when he chose not to prosecute a slam dunk case against Edna Rivera, his former client, whom, while under Zugibe’s representation in the early 2000s, sold a home with an affordable housing lien on it for over $100,000 more than its legal price. Rivera is the former director of affordable housing group HOGAR.

Zugibe’s office conveniently posited that no criminal intention by Rivera could be gleaned in the case, in spite of the disappeared lien being in the vicinity of her career’s expertise.

Zugibe also recently let go with a slap on the wrist Haverstraw Democrats Barry Berman, who was caught on tape delivering a $3,000 bag of cash to an electoral opponent in return for his cooperation and Village Trustee Terence Watston, who was accused of defrauding an elderly contracting customer. Recently yet another elderly woman, this one from Yonkers, called the Rockland County Times to complain Watson had defrauded her of her deposit payment. This is the third such case documented against Waston.

All these charges against Haverstraw Democrats Watson, Berman and Rivera are, by far, worse than any accusation Frank Sparaco has faced during his political career, and had much more evidence backing them up. Yet, of the three men and one woman, Sparaco is the only to receive jail time.

Zugibe has shown himself to be a politically motivated DA and far from the right man to pretend he is Rockland County’s Preet Bharara. Given Zugibe’s compromised ethical stature and mediocre overall performance, he should without question be replaced as district attorney in this year’s election.

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