Tax Dollars on Display (but you have to buy a plane ticket)

Long Island elected officials have steered at least $1.38 million in taxpayer dollars and other assistance to a struggling nonprofit run by a felon convicted in a high-profile Suffolk County public corruption scandal, a Newsday investigation has found.

Edward Morris Sr., 65, the executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, pleaded guilty in 2001 to charges that included defrauding the government while he was a Suffolk County undersheriff and the sheriff’s campaign treasurer. Records concerning the organization show that despite Morris’ felony conviction, the Hall has received assistance from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and District Attorney Thomas Spota, while other local politicians have helped it secure federal, state, county and town grants.

The vast majority of the grant money was specifically earmarked for Morris to create a museum out of a former Patchogue bank annex that had been donated to the nonprofit, but records show the organization ultimately sold the property for nearly $1.8 million, leaving the museum essentially homeless.

As a result, people hoping to experience a vestige of local sports glory — or to see what their tax dollars have bought — would need to go to Long Island MacArthur Airport, buy an airline ticket, navigate through security and head to the Southwest Airlines terminal.

There lies the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, where Morris has arranged oversized photos of sports figures such as retired NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, former professional wrestler Mick Foley, boxing champion Buddy McGirt and wrestler and coach Jumper Leggio.

Newsday’s examination of available documents found that the Hall’s journey to airline gates A3 and A4 came after Morris brought a grand vision to an initially modest organization, one that everyday Long Islanders showed little interest in supporting but which Morris’ many friends in politics were willing to sustain with taxpayer-funded assistance. In the end, those tax dollars weren’t enough to keep the Hall’s museum doors open.

Morris lamented how difficult it is to raise money for the Hall compared with an organization such as the Police Athletic League, which receives steady donations from parents. “Nobody cares about the Hall of Fame unless they’re in the Hall of Fame or have relatives in the Hall of Fame,” Morris said.

Click here to read the rest of the Newsday story.