Smith implored agencies to investigate Levy
By Chip Rowe
This was no ordinary political feud.
Over more than three years, Putnam County Sheriff Don Smith repeatedly wrote state and federal officials imploring them to investigate the county’s then-district attorney, Adam Levy.
The Journal News obtained letters written on Putnam County Sheriff’s Office letterhead to the FBI, U.S. attorney’s office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the state attorney general and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking them to intervene in Smith’s dispute with Levy, who he claimed was housing an undocumented immigrant and interfering with a rape investigation.
Smith, a Republican who has been the Putnam County sheriff since 2002, is running for his fifth term against Democratic candidate Robert Langley Jr., a resident of Garrison.
Langley immediately seized on the letters as a campaign issue, holding a press conference at the Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 5 to denounce his opponent. “If he had any honor left, he would resign as Sheriff immediately,” he said. The candidate also called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove Smith from office.
In an earlier statement, Langley charged that “Putnam County is being policed by a criminal” because of allegations that Smith committed perjury during a sworn deposition after Levy sued him for defamation. “Smith is a bully with a badge — a badge we pay for,” he said.
Smith did not return a request for comment made through Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. William McNamara. But his attorney, Adam Kleinberg, said in a statement that the sheriff reached out to the agencies after he “received information” regarding the rape suspect’s immigration status “that he believed warranted an investigation by outside law enforcement agencies. He referred the matter out to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.
“In the years that followed, the sheriff was embroiled in a very public lawsuit. He was deposed over the course of several days and responded candidly when he could not recall specifics about documents that were not in front of him.
“He testified to the best of his ability, even while watching his wife losing her fight with cancer on a daily basis. When the dust settled, and all of the information was in front of the sheriff, he apologized to Levy for certain statements made based on what was known to him at the time. The sheriff moved on. And the sheriff continues to protect the county and keep it as safe as it has ever been.”
In June, Smith settled the defamation lawsuit with Levy and apologized for two press releases he issued that stated falsely that a rape suspect lived at Levy’s home at the time of his arrest and that Levy had interfered in the criminal investigation. Although Smith had been sued as an individual and not in his capacity as sheriff, Putnam County legislators voted to approve paying $125,000 of the $150,000 settlement. Smith paid the other $25,000.
Smith began his letter-writing campaign in January 2013, The Journal News reported, and it grew more intense in March of that year after Levy’s friend and personal trainer, Alexandru Hossu, an immigrant from Romania, was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl. (Hossu was acquitted by a jury and has filed a $45 million lawsuit against Smith, Putnam County, and others, alleging false prosecution.)
Levy has said Smith wanted to link him to Hossu to embarrass him because of their longstanding turf war. Levy lost his bid for re-election in 2015 and blamed the campaign by Smith to discredit him.
In its Sept. 28 report, The Journal News noted that Smith, in a deposition given two years ago, insisted he had never mentioned Levy in his discussions with state or federal agencies. But in a letter dated March 22, 2013, the sheriff urged an agent from Homeland Security to investigate Levy for alleged violations of immigration law that “apparently ‘aided and abetted’ a man who violently raped a little girl in Putnam County.”
The sheriff attached an Albany Times Union story about an unrelated case “concerning the recent conviction of a high-profile defendant for harboring and hiring an illegal alien, just one of many reported cases like the one at hand.”
In a four-page letter dated April 17, 2014, to Preet Bharara, then the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Smith pointed to “apparent corruption within the Putnam County District’s Attorney’s Office,” arguing that Levy interfered in the Hossu investigation and contributed to the suspect’s acquittal.
Referencing a secretly recorded phone call in which Hossu denied the rape, Smith argued that “many people who were present in court and heard the recording … have expressed suspicion that, based upon Mr. Hossu’s tone of voice and the words he used, he had been tipped off to expect a controlled [recorded] call and was coached in his responses.”
The sheriff noted that his office could not subpoena telephone, text and email records “that might connect the dots” and urged Bharara to do so, saying “the criminal justice system in Putnam County is broken, and without the assistance of your offices it will remain so.”