The Putnam County Legislature officially closed the case on the Adam Levy vs. Don Smith civil lawsuit when the lawmakers unanimously approved the settlement that’ll give Levy, the former district attorney, $125,000 from the county and $25,000 personally from the sheriff.
During a special full legislature meeting Thursday evening, all eight legislators in attendance voted, albeit reluctantly, to approve the agreement. As part of the agreement, Sheriff Smith had to publicly retract and apologize to Levy for false statements he made in 2013 claiming Levy interfered in a rape case.
Disappointment appeared to be the overwhelming sentiment among lawmakers as they addressed the issue that has thrown Smith and the sheriff’s office under scrutiny. But none of the lawmakers went as far as to call on him to resign from his post. The sole legislator not in attendance was Putnam Valley’s Bill Gouldman.
The $125,000 the county is forking over comes from taxpayer funds. Most lawmakers stressed they were approving the deal begrudgingly because it was the most cost effective solution and the county could be forced to pay more money if the case reached a verdict, particularly an unfavorable one.
Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino said the lawmaking body was as troubled with paying taxpayer money for the settlement as the public is. Nacerino also said Smith’s admission that his false statement hurt a person’s life “is not only disappointing, but shatters the faith and trust in elected officials and shakes at the core of our little county.”
Nacerino said with advice from the legislative attorney, county attorney, and other legal resources, settling the case was in the best interest of taxpayers. If the trial reached a verdict, the monetary sum could have been more damaging, Nacerino said.
Last week, Smith, in a stunning letter publicly disclosed, admitted he issued false press releases that accused Levy of interfering in the Alexandru Hossu rape case. The sheriff also claimed in March 2013 Hossu lived at Levy’s house and Levy was knowingly harboring an illegal immigrant. He admitted all of those claims were untrue.
Legislator Dini LoBue said she was “disgusted” and she doesn’t think lawmakers “had the full picture of what was taking place.”
“When he signed that letter of apology admitting what he did, he put this county at risk,” LoBue said.
Legislator Paul Jonke called it a “sad day for the taxpayers of Putnam County.”
Legislator Toni Addonizio said the settlement makes the most sense for taxpayers and Legislator Carl Albano warned the financial obligations could be heavier if this deal isn’t struck.
Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra said she has a lot of faith in Smith, but the latest development “has shaken this faith.”
Smith, who is running for a fifth term, hasn’t said much publicly about the settlement, but that it was a civil case and he’s looking forward to focusing his attention on important issues like the drug epidemic in Putnam.
There wasn’t much public comment on the matter, with only two residents offering input.
Southeast resident Ann Fanizzi argued taxpayers should not shoulder the financial burden from the settlement and it’s the sheriff who should take fiscal responsibility for his own individual actions. She said she’s hired an attorney and intends to take this further and contacted the state attorney general’s office.
Fanizzi said if Smith had a “modicum of integrity,” he would resign and pay full compensation to Levy. She said Smith “shamefully lied” to destroy Levy’s reputation.
“Can we trust anything that’s coming out of this man’s office,” Fanizzi said, questioning whether Smith committed misconduct and violated his oath of office.
Southeast Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt submitted a letter, but the legislators decided not to read it into the record. Eckardt, speaking for herself and not the town, sent the letter to The Putnam Examiner and requested the county refrain from funding Smith’s settlement with Levy.
“This settlement is not covered by insurance and is instead covered by Putnam County taxpayers,” Eckardt wrote. “This is unconscionable.”