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[December 02, 2006]
Former clerk acquitted: Jury deliberates less than an hour in finding that the onetime Nassau employee did not file false instruments nor defraud county taxpayers
(Newsday (Melville, NY) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 2--A former Nassau seasonal clerk who said he did political work for County Executive Thomas Suozzi on taxpayer time was acquitted Friday of defrauding taxpayers by submitting false time sheets.
Shomwa Shamapande, a Democratic political operative hired by former Deputy County Executive Michael Klein in 2003, was cleared of felony charges of filing a false instrument and grand larceny by a state Supreme Court jury that deliberated for less than an hour.
"I am gratified that the jury returned a verdict so quickly, and that they understood what I went through -- not just during this trial but during this process," Shamapande said after the verdict.
His attorney, Dominick Porco, declared: "There is a message to the politicians here: If you're caught, stand up, be candid, give your reasons. Stand up for what you did. Take your lumps."
Porco maintained throughout the trial that Shamapande, who served as Klein's special assistant despite his clerk's title, was hired to politically assist Suozzi. Klein denied it.
After Newsday inquired about Shamapande's work last year, county officials fired him, citing irregularities in his time sheets, and referred the case to then District Attorney Denis Dillon. Klein subsequently resigned.
Dillon charged Shamapande with filing six bogus time sheets from March through May 2005, collecting $12,000 he didn't deserve.
Klein testified that Shamapande's work ended by March 2005. He said he didn't know the man he had given a key to his home office continued to collect pay after that date, though one of the Shamapande's time sheets had been faxed to the county from Klein's Manhattan home.
In his summation, Porco insisted the case hinged on Klein's credibility, attacking the former deputy as a liar. To Klein's assertion that any political work by Shamapande was done on his own time as a favor, Porco sneered, "It's a lie and you have proof of the lie."
Porco cited: a 2004 meeting Shamapande arranged with Klein, Suozzi and Democratic political consultant Bill Lynch during a workday; the 2004 Democratic National Convention Shamapande attended on county time with Klein and Suozzi, and a lengthy "Fix Albany" strategy memo Shamapande sent Suozzi during work hours.
Porco said he thought the memo was key to the verdict. "He could not have performed that kind of document without intruding into what was county time. He got paid for it. I think the jury understood and accepted my argument that what happened in the spring of 2005 had been going on all along."
Justice Alan Honorof instructed jurors that to convict, they had to find every element in the prosecution's case to be true. During his summation, Porco reminded them of an e-mail Klein sent Shamapande directing him to attend a parks meeting on March 29 -- though prosecutors and Klein claimed Shamapande was not working then.
"This man is on trial based on an accusation that he didn't work," Porco said. "Here is proof positive that he worked at least one other day."
District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who inherited the case from Dillon, declined comment.
Nassau Investigations Commissioner Bonnie Garone, speaking for the Suozzi administration, said Shamapande "was fired because our investigation showed he defrauded the taxpayers by getting paid when he did no work for the county, neither governmental nor political."
Staff writer Ann Givens contributed to this story.
Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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