By W.T. ECKERT
CANTON — St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire rebutted District Attorney Mary E. Rain’s allegations that the county used forfeiture money illegally and omitted a grant application to fund positions in the district attorney’s office.
Ms. Rain is convening a grand jury to investigate why the county failed to apply for a five-year grant totaling $500,000 that has paid for two victim advocate positions in the district attorney’s office. Ms. Rain also contends that $12,148.61 in forfeiture funds authorized by former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve in December were illegally and improperly used by Ms. St. Hilaire for the purchase of a sound system in the county Board of Legislators chambers.
In a letter released Monday, Ms. St. Hilaire chided Ms. Rain for calling the asset forfeiture account “my account,” stating, “as you are well aware, these funds do not belong to any individual or department, but rather to the county.”
Ms. Rain did not return requests to comment Monday.
All departments, including those of independent elected officials, have their budgets appropriated by the Board of Legislators, Ms. St. Hilaire wrote, adding that Ms. Rain’s reading of a section of the state Civil Practice Law and Rules “appeared misplaced.”
The rules state that forfeiture money must be deposited “in a law enforcement purposes or prosecution services subaccount of the general fund, and used only for law enforcement purposes in the investigation of penal law offenses or for the prosecution of penal law offenses.”
Ms. St. Hilaire wrote that the guideline doesn’t govern how the funds are spent and maintained that the state law enforcement community follows U.S. Department of Justice guidelines. She stated that permissible uses include “telecommunications equipment,” and concluded that the purchasing of the sound system for the chambers, which has been used as a court room and occasionally a grand jury room, “clearly is appropriate, accepted, and legal by both New York State and the federal government.”
Ms. St. Hilaire told Ms. Rain that her predecessor, Ms. Duve, decided that the expenditure was appropriate.
“It is the county’s responsibility to pay any and all outstanding obligations that are properly made and approved,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote. “I do not know of any federal or state law that prohibits the county from paying these bills, nor of any law that would permit the county not to pay them.”
Ms. St. Hilaire stated that County Judge Jerome J. Richards, who preceded Ms. Duve as District attorney, “authorized a similar purchase of equipment for the room in question which only goes to reinforce the propriety of the purchase.”
Regarding the accusation that there was a failure at the county level to apply for victim advocacy grant which “somehow rises to the level of criminal nonfeasance,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote was incorrect, citing section 190.05 of the state Criminal Procedure Law.
“The nonfeasance that Section 190.05 refers to is not a ministerial mistake, as clearly was the case with this year’s aid to prosecution grant, but rather akin to a police officer or firefighter failing to act, and as result an individual being injured,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote. “The facts alleged in your letter, even if true, do not rise to those levels of criminality.”
Since 1999, when the grant was first applied for, Ms. St. Hillarie said the probation director took the responsibility for filing the grant as a courtesy to the DA, as the victim services coordinators were employees out of that office, adding that the two departments worked together to file the grant.
“I think it is clear that this year, having a new director of the probation department and you having only recently taken over as district attorney, contributed to the circumstances at hand,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote, adding that it has never been the responsibility of her office or the Board of Legislators.
“Therefore, it would seem likely that if you were to convene a grand jury to truly investigate this matter in a fair and impartial manner for nonfeasance on the part of county officials, you would be required to request that the county court grant a special prosecutor, so that the grand jury could examine personnel from the district attorney’s office,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote. “It seems very clear that what has happened in this particular case is an understandable mistake involving among others a new probation director and new district attorney and any investigation would require an examination of both departments.”