Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
An investigation has revealed that Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla allegedly tried to obtain private images of a Hempstead worker, according to law enforcement officials. The town attorney’s office conducted its own review of complaints made by employees and reported results of their findings to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s office.
According to a criminal complaint filed by DA investigator William Walsh, Bonilla on Aug. 19 attempted to secure intimate photos of a female employee who recently filed a sexual harassment claim. The document obtained by Anton Community Newspapers suggests the town clerk attempted to force town employee Alex Desidoro, 21, to give him photos of the woman because Desidoro had an intimate relationship with her.
Rice revealed on Tuesday, Sept. 25 that Bonilla allegedly asked a town attorney if he could pay the female employee $10,000 to make the woman “go away,” Rice stated. The district attorney said that the town attorney rejected the idea immediately.
It was unclear if the money would have come from town funds, according to Rice, because the statement was “met with immediate resistance. [Bonilla] was told not to have contact with any of the people involved to allow the town attorney to continue the investigation and not to impede the investigation.”
Bonilla was named clerk in 2003, according to the town’s website, after Kate Murray left the position to become town supervisor. He was the first person of Hispanic descent to obtain the position.
The town clerk promised to promote Desidoro to full time employment had he obtained the photos, the report read. If Desidoro failed to comply, according to the complaint, Bonilla would “transfer him out of the town clerk’s office.”
“Mr. Bonilla’s conduct became criminal when he used his position as an elected official to try and obtain intimate photos from a 21-year-old subordinate to blackmail an employee who had made a sexual harassment claim against him,” Rice said.
Bonilla, 50, was arrested Friday, Sept. 21 and charged with official misconduct, second-degree attempted coercion and petit larceny. He pleaded not guilty on Saturday, Sept. 22 to the charges. He could not be reached for comment and is due back in court on Friday, Oct. 26.
Bonilla’s attorney Adrian DiLuzio, who has known the town clerk for some years, was recently retained to represent him. Concerning Murray’s and recent town officials commenting on the situation, he said in a phone interview, “I know Mark is very popular. He may be for all I know, the most popular Republican in the county. He’s a very likeable guy.”
Rice noted that Bonilla had an unnamed assistant pick up a CD from Desidoro that would contain the photos. The CD was blank. Three women, according to Rice, have made allegations against Bonilla, citing a “hostile work environment.”
“Mark Bonilla tried to use his public office to shield himself from accountability and that is why he was arrested,” Rice said.
Murray held a press conference Saturday, Sept. 22, with other town board members in tow. The supervisor has called for Bonilla to step down, stating that his conduct was, “disgusting and offensive. Officials have a responsibility to uphold the public’s trust. These credible allegations are a violation of that trust, and I am calling upon him to immediately resign his position.”
She feels that his presence in the office after the charges would create, “a hostile work environment for staff. Protecting staff from a hostile work environment is a responsibility I take seriously. I will ensure that employees in the clerk’s office have a work environment that is safe and free of intimidation and inappropriate behavior.”
If Bonilla resigns, the town would have to appoint a new clerk. That person would have to run for election next November.
“I think it’s fair for them to do what’s fair for them to do,” DiLuzio stated. “To say you’re going to try to find something displays an animus that’s astounding. I’m not saying it’s malicious. It’s typical of what happens. Law enforcement people think like law enforcement people.”
Town officials would not comment if there would be any additional investigation into the alleged wrongdoings, but confirmed that the town attorney’s office is researching if Bonilla can be removed.
“We can’t comment on whether there will be any additional investigations; this is an ongoing district attorney case,” Press Secretary Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky said. “With regard to Bonilla being removed from his post, the town attorney’s office is investigating that issue and will consider all options under the law.”
A felony conviction is the only way Bonilla could be removed as town clerk, Town Attorney Joseph Ra confirmed. Town counsel is researching whether Bonilla could be removed if he violated his oath of office.
“We are still researching,” Ra stated. “I don’t know if we have [an answer] yet. If it were a felony conviction, he’s automatically out. What we would have to do here is a court proceeding to say that he’s unfit for office. This is by no means concluded. The investigation is still continuing.”