Longtime Suffolk County prosecutor John Scott Prudenti regularly collected thousands of dollars from local defense attorneys for the use of his boat, potentially violating county ethics and professional conduct standards.
Prominent defense attorneys Raymond Perini and William Collado said that their respective firms jointly made checks out to a corporation run by Prudenti, a bureau chief and 30-year veteran of the Suffolk district attorney’s office, in order to rent his 47-foot boat, the Christina Marie, for an annual summer party.
The get-togethers — which Perini called a “knock-around good old time party” — featured lobster, barbecue, “beer, wine and if somebody wanted a shot I always had a bottle of scotch.” Perini said he couldn’t be sure when he started booking the Christina Marie for the summer parties but that the arrangement lasted for five or six years. Some of the most powerful people in Suffolk’s criminal justice system — including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota — attended the parties, Perini said.
Defense lawyers also paid Prudenti to charter the Christina Marie for fishing trips, though the boat did not always leave the harbor or even the dock, according to Collado and two other defense attorneys who said they had been on the charters.
The two other defense attorneys, who asked not to be identified, said they went on Prudenti’s boat on separate trips and that it was a well-known way to curry favor with Prudenti, who was involved in many of their cases.
Perini and Collado, however, each said the payments for the summer party were never aimed at getting better deals in criminal cases and that they never reaped any advantage from Prudenti.
“I don’t think this affected his ability to make decisions at all,” said Perini, a former Suffolk prosecutor who failed in a 2013 bid to unseat Spota as district attorney.
Perini initially estimated the annual payments for the parties were about $4,000 or $5,000. Perini, in a later conversation, said that upon reviewing checks, he had paid Prudenti $1,500 to $1,800 for some of the parties, a cost that included food and drink.
Perini said he couldn’t remember whether those checks covered the entire cost of those parties, or whether Collado had paid an additional amount. Perini declined to provide Newsday copies of the checks he gave to Prudenti.
Suffolk County’s ethics code states that public servants cannot “engage in any business, transaction or private employment, or have any financial or private interest which is in conflict with the proper discharge of his or her official duties.”
The American Bar Association mandates that prosecutors must avoid allowing their professional judgment or obligations to be affected by private financial interests.
In 2015, the ABA toughened standards to require that prosecutors inform their supervisors of any matter that “could reasonably be viewed as raising a potential conflict of interest.” Supervisors are then to decide whether disclosure in the courtroom is warranted, and the ABA standards call for a bias in favor of disclosure.
Perini said “Spota always came” to the parties, as did many criminal judges whose identities he said he couldn’t remember. “If judges were there, if his boss was there, who is he going to disclose to?” Perini said of Prudenti. “It’s not a secret party.”
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