The New York Times by BRUCE LAMBERT - May 29, 2004
Suffolk County's district attorney took the rare step of lashing out at a judge yesterday accusing him of issuing ''political'' verdicts in the closely watched bribery trial of a former Brookhaven official and a paving contractor. District Attorney Thomas J. Spota criticized Judge Gary J. Weber of Suffolk County Court hours after he acquitted Patricia Strebel, a former town councilwoman and more recently the highway superintendent, of the most serious charges in the case, levied a $2,500 fine for misdemeanors and imposed no jail time. At the same time, the judge convicted the co-defendant, Stephen Milvid, the contractor, of numerous felonies, subjecting him to years in prison. Prosecutors accused Mr. Milvid of rewarding Ms. Strebel with a $10,000 campaign donation in return for inflating the bills for the paving and curb work by his company, Debut Concrete, by $72,000, and cheating the town of $136,000 in landfill fees by dumping debris at no charge. He was also accused of underpaying his workers by $249,000. Mr. Spota issued a sparse statement saying, ''I believe that this was clearly a political verdict.''
Judge Weber is a Republican, as is Ms. Strebel. Mr. Spota is a Republican-turned-Democrat who has gained a reputation for prosecuting corruption cases during his nearly two and half years in office. Most of the targets have been Republicans, who hold a majority of the public offices in Suffolk, but some targets have been Democrats. Many of the investigations have focused on Brookhaven, the most populous and politically powerful town in Suffolk, whose scandals have earned it the nickname Crookhaven. Mr. Spota's spokesman, Robert Clifford, could not recall another instance in which the district attorney had publicly criticized a judge. Although Mr. Spota did not elaborate, his assistant in the case, John S. Prudenti, said: ''The judge's verdict to convict Milvid but not his co-defendant defies logic and the law. The court acknowledged that Mr. Milvid couldn't do what he had done without the help of Ms. Strebel, and even then they didn't find her guilty.'' Judge Weber could not be reached for comment. A court spokesman said that since the contractor's sentencing is pending, it would be inappropriate for the judge to comment. In the nonjury trial, Judge Weber acquitted Ms. Strebel of the felony charges against her, like grand larceny, but convicted her of falsifying business records and official misconduct misdemeanors.
Despite her indictments, Ms. Strebel ran for re-election last year as the highwa superintendent. She won a Republican primary but lost the general election. Mr. Milvid's lawyer, Paul Gianelli, echoed the district attorney's criticism of the verdicts, but from the vantage point of the defense. ''If my client's co-defendant was found not guilty, then I believe he should have been found not guilty as well,'' Mr. Gianelli said. In the trial, Ms. Strebel said she padded the bills to cover additional stump and root removal; prosecutors said the work was covered by the contract. Judge Weber ruled that Mr. Milvid's campaign donations were not bribes, but were in the tradition of contractors contributing to public officials to keep ''good will.'' A third defendant, Daniel Wirshup, the public works superintendent for Patchogue, was acquitted on charges that he used similar bill-padding schemes with Mr. Milvid.