O’Connor and Cumella Call For Criminal Investigation Of Bellone Team’s Involvement In Crooked Computer Deal
Two candidates for Suffolk County elected offices today called for independent investigations to determine if the felonious activities of Donald Rodgers, County Executive Steve Bellone’s hand-picked former Information Technology (IT) commissioner, were carried out with the knowledge of the county executive himself and/or his closest deputies.
Donna Cumella, one of the whistleblowers within the IT department, and currently a candidate for the Suffolk County Legislature, and Jim O’Connor, Republican and Conservative candidate for county executive, disclosed emails that were sent to Bellone’s top manager, Tom Melito, which, according to Cumella, prove Bellone’s highest deputies had knowledge of Mr. Rodgers’ felonious action before they sought to cover it up.
In 2012, Mr. Rodgers replaced the well-respected Gary Quinn, formerly of CA, as IT Commissioner. It was thereafter discovered that Mr. Rodgers was running an outside consulting business while serving as Commissioner. He then concocted a scheme to give Microsoft a $5 million no-bid contract for software which the county never paid.
Ms. Cumella, who is responsible for all IT contracts, finance and wireless communication for the county, was one of the employees in IT who discovered that Mr. Rodgers never received authorization from the Legislature to fund the project that he signed off on, thereby improperly committing the county to this payment. After substantial digging by Ms. Cumella and other honest employees in the department, Mr. Rodgers’ indiscretions were reported to the District Attorney.
On May 8, 2014, the District Attorney’s office arrested Mr. Rodgers on charges of official misconduct and one felony count of offering a false instrument in the first degree. He pled not guilty to all charges. The DA’s office found that Mr. Rodgers forced one of his subordinates to create a fake requisition number so he himself could sign off on the Letter of Intent to purchase the computer licenses and lied to the Legislature about the purchase. He also failed to disclose on his financial disclosure form that he owned Red Dog Design, a computer consultancy firm.
On August 17, 2015, Rodgers resigned from his county IT Commissioner post after pleading guilty to two lesser misdemeanor charges, thereby avoiding jail time. First District Court Judge Jennifer Henry sentenced Rodgers to a one-year conditional discharge. Had he been found guilty on the original charges — one of them a Class E felony — he could have faced up to four years in prison.
But Ms. Cumella and Mr. O’Connor state the story doesn’t end there. Ms. Cumella disclosed the email she had sent to Bellone’s top deputy, Mr. Melito, warning that the county could not proceed with implementing the contract because it was signed by Rodgers at a time he lacked the legal authority to do so. This was due to the fact that the Legislature had not yet approved money in the operating budget to purchase the software.
Rather than come clean with the knowledge he now had of the impropriety (assuming he did not have knowledge from the outset), Mr. Melito engaged in an improper practice by covering up the department’s felonious action and thereafter seeking to get the Legislature to approve a bonding resolution to borrow money to pay for the software that previously could only be purchased through operating funds.
“Worse yet,” said Ms. Cumella, “Mr. Melito sat by silently next to Mr. Rodgers as Mr. Rodgers was lying to the Legislature that he hadn’t yet signed the agreement or accepted services from Microsoft.” He failed to speak up despite the fact that Melito was on record; Ms. Cumella’s email showed Mr. Melito knew of Mr. Rodgers’ indiscretions. “In essence, Mr. Bellone’s deputy was defrauding the Legislature and, by extension, the taxpayers throughout this endeavor.”
“It is hard to believe that Mr. Melito, Steve Bellone’s Management Czar, would not have discussed this matter with the county executive,” said Mr. O’Connor. “We are calling on the county executive to come clean about his knowledge of this event. But it is also imperative that further investigation be undertaken to determine what the county executive knew and when he knew it.”
“The Bellone team’s sinister efforts to improperly bond the funding for this operational software without telling the Legislature that the contract was already being implemented should not be surprising,” Mr. O’Connor continued. “This was the same county executive who has been bonding for everything not tied down in Suffolk. He has bonded for salaries (a first in Suffolk history). He has bonded $200 million of our pension obligations. He borrowed $100 million from the sewer fund to cover his operational deficits, and he even sold our county office buildings only to lease them back.”
* Photo is attached and available upon request.