2013-03-20 / Front Page

Odell Calls on Sheriff to Step Aside in Rape Case

Updates in fast-moving political, criminal drama
Eric Gross

In a fast-moving case that has thrown Putnam County politics into turmoil, County Executive MaryEllen Odell on Tuesday called for Sheriff Donald Smith’s office to step aside from investigating a rape case with tangential ties to the district attorney.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Adam Levy’s office has already removed itself the case of Alexandru Hossu, 35, who has been charged with raping a 12-year-old Southeast girl on two occasions in 2010. The girl is now 15. Hossu is Levy’s former personal trainer, and lived for a time with Levy and his family in their Southeast home.

Odell said late Tuesday afternoon: “It appears that the government agencies in Putnam County involved in this case have lost the objectivity and impartiality required to preserve the integrity of a fair process for the victim and the accused. Both have the right to privacy and the security of knowing that justice in this case remains blind.

“It is my opinion, based on press releases, public statements and the media attention that has surrounded this particular case, that objectivity necessary to guarantee fairness may be compromised,” Odell continued. “I am concerned with the allegations of impropriety exchanged between both the Putnam County District Attorney and Putnam County Sheriff. Enough is enough.”

The escalating fight follows months of carping between Levy and Smith, particularly over overtime pay in the Sheriff’s Department.

Smith quickly reacted, saying Tuesday evening: “I can only conclude that her comments are pure, unadulterated politics and her inserting herself into this law enforcement matter is wholly inappropriate and only makes matters worse. There is nothing that constitutes a conflict of interest that prevents my Office from fulfilling its duties in the investigation of this case involving the rape of an innocent, little girl.”

Smith noted that he has already asked federal officials to conduct a “thorough investigation” in determining if DA Levy violated immigration law by “harboring, shielding, aiding or abetting” his former personal trainer.

Hossu is jailed on $100,000 bond. On Tuesday afternoon, Hossu appeared in Southeast Town Court on a felony hearing before White Plains City Judge Brian Hansbury, since Southeast Justice Richard Vercollone recused himself.

Wearing shackles and manacles as he entered the courtroom accompanied by corrections officers, Hossu said nothing during the brief proceeding. His attorney, Stacey Richman, daughter of high profile counsel Murray Richman, whose clients have included rappers DMX and Jay-Z, asked the judge to order that Hossu be moved to the Westchester County Jail. Judge Hansbury said he could not make that decision and forwarded the request to a higher authority. He adjourned the case until May 7.

Neither Richman nor Westchester Assistant District Attorney Ken Borden, who represented the prosecution, would comment later.

At the time of the arrest, Smith said Hossu was a Romanian national now in the U.S. on a work visa that expired 12 years ago. When first arrested, the sheriff stated that Hossu resided at 70 Indian Wells Road, in Southeast, the home of the district attorney.

But shortly after the arrest, Levy told this reporter that Hossu had not been in his employ since last June and that the suspect was not residing in his home.

Levy said Monday that “despite Sheriff Smith’s unfounded allegations and misstatements, the facts will show that my office acted properly in every aspect of the investigation.”

In an exclusive interview Sunday, Smith told the Courier and PCNR that his department’s investigation continues to center on the “vicious rape of a little girl. This is what our investigation is all about—nothing more and nothing less.”

The sheriff went on to say: “Any matters relating to immigration or matters peripheral to the rape investigation have been referred to the Homeland Security Office of Investigations.”

The criminal complaint contains two counts of 1st degree rape. The case came to authorities only recently because Smith said the “victim reported the alleged sexual contact to a school counselor.”

Levy explained when the seriousness of the matter focused he requested that the Westchester District Attorney’s office handle the prosecution of the case due to his former involvement with the defendant.

But Sheriff Smith countered that an assistant district attorney from Levy’s office who was initially involved in the investigation along with sheriff’s investigators and a caseworker from the Putnam Child Advocacy Center concluded that “Mr. Levy’s office could not properly continue to participate in the investigation in any way. The recusal of Mr. Levy’s office was not his original idea at all.”

Smith alleged that the district attorney is “trying to influence and effect the investigation which could be perceived as an ethical violation of his official duties.”

Putnam’s two top lawmen have been feuding for months after Levy suggested that local town and village attorneys plea bargain traffic summonses issued by members of the Sheriff’s Department over Smith’s objections.

In order to reduce overtime, members of the State Police implemented the new procedure. Levy told a meeting of the Putnam Legislature’s Protective Services Committee on a warm summer’s night last August “by acting in this manner taxpayers are saving dollars since troopers no longer receive overtime for appearing in court.”

Smith charged that Levy was “taking money away from my deputies” which Levy called “ridiculous.”

Levy eventually won the battle since local magistrates now handle traffic tickets in Putnam’s towns and villages.

When the D.A. charged that Smith was “attempting to hoodwink the public with the ‘Texas two-step’, Smith charged that Levy’s insinuation was “an affront to my department.”

Smith also accused Levy of failing to prosecute cases in a timely manner. The division between the two lawmen has gotten deeper.

At the Carmel Rotary Fish and Chips dinner last Friday the underlying talk of the evening was the latest political scandal to hit Putnam County.

Many political leaders were in attendance who rolled their eyes when the subject was brought up.

“I don’t understand why public officials can’t get along around here,” said a prominent man from Mahopac. Another local leader said he was shocked by the “vindictiveness” of the attacks: “A child has been allegedly raped. We seem to be losing the focus of the situation.”

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