Just over a month ago we wrote about the curious case of Frank Ranelli of Alabama and the growing problem of asset forfeitures all across the United States. Ranelli, who owned a local computer repair shop in Ensley, Alabama, showed up to work one day in 2010 only to later be raided by local police who proceeded to confiscate thousands of dollars worth of assets. Nothing ever came of the case and despite no official charges and no jury trial, Ranelli, after 7 years of effort, has been completely unsuccessful in recovering the assets that officers took from his business.
The morning of June 29, 2010, began much like any other day for Frank Ranelli, the owner of FAR Computers in Ensley, Alabama. Ranelli, who had owned his computer repair business just outside of Birmingham for more than two decades, was doing some paperwork in his windowless office when he heard loud banging on the front door. Within a matter of moments Ranelli was placed under arrest and all of the computer equipment in his store, much of which belonged to customers, had been confiscated by Alabama police never to be returned.
Within moments, a Homewood police sergeant had declared a room full of customers’ computers, merchandise and other items “stolen goods,” Ranelli recalled. He ordered his officers to “arrest them all,” according to Ranelli, who was cuffed and taken to the Homewood jail along with two of his shop employees.
The police proceeded to confiscate more than 130 computers – most of which were customers’ units waiting to be repaired, though some were for sale – as well as the company’s business servers and workstations and even receipts and checkbooks.
“Here I was, a man, owned this business, been coming to work every day like a good old guy for 23 years, and I show up at work that morning – I was in here doing my books from the day before – and the police just f***ed my life,” he said.
Now, new revelations from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office illustrate precisely why asset forfeitures, and all the inherent conflicts of interest therein, are suddenly becoming a hot topic of debate all across the country. According to records obtained by Newsday from Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, former DA Thomas Spota doled out a staggering $3.25 million – $550,000 more than originally reported – in “bonuses” to public prosecutors, from a pool of seized assets, without a single legislative approval.
Newly disclosed records show Suffolk district attorney employees have received $3.25 million in bonuses since 2012 — $550,000 more than reported previously — as county lawmakers prepare for a hearing Tuesday on a bill to tighten legislative control over how proceeds from seized criminal assets are spent.
Bonus recipients included deputy chief homicide prosecutor Robert Biancavilla, who received a total of $108,886 between 2012 and 2017, and division chief Edward Heilig and top public corruption prosecutor Christopher McPartland, who each received $73,000, according to records obtained from county Comptroller John Kennedy’s office through the Freedom of Information Law.
The bonuses, which were funded from assets seized in criminal cases by the district attorney’s office, did not receive legislative approval. The original figure of $2.7 million came from documents provided by County Executive Steve Bellone’s office, which only included bonuses for top management employees.
“Asset forfeiture money that comes into this county counts into the millions of dollars,” Calarco said. “That’s a lot of money to be spent at the sole discretion of an individual with no oversight.”
Meanwhile, according to PIX11, these new revelations of potentially misrepresented bonus payments come after the former DA was forced to resign his post just a few weeks ago upon being accused of obstructing an FBI investigation that led to the conviction of former county Police Chief James Burke.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who was indicted on charges that he helped cover up the beating of a handcuffed prisoner by a police chief, says he will step down from his post.
“I will be leaving my post as district attorney at the earliest opportunity after the resolution of normal administrative matters relating to my retirement,” Spota said in a statement released by his office Thursday. “The governor will be notified of my decision today. The Chief Assistant District Attorney, Emily Constant, will thereafter assume my duties and responsibilities.”
He said he has notified Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of his decision.
Spota, a Democrat, and the chief of his anti-corruption bureau, Christopher McPartland, are accused of obstructing an FBI investigation that led to the conviction of former county Police Chief James Burke.
Both pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Wednesday in federal court on Long Island.
But sure, elected officials are inherently trustworthy enough to work with local police to confiscate millions of dollars in cash and then unilaterally disburse those funds in a judicious manner…why would anyone think such a system would ever go awry?