A District Attorney’s Gotta Eat, You Know

There has been much to appreciate about the changes implemented by the new(ish) Kings County District Attorney, Ken Thompson. not the least of which is he’s not Joe Hynes. Thompson has reviewed and tossed questionable past convictions, particularly by lying mutts like disgraced Det. Lou Scarcella. But hard work makes a guy hungry, and how can one do his best prosecuting when his tummy is growling?

When a food order came in from the Brooklyn district attorney, Ken Thompson, the officers in charge of protecting him knew the drill: Go pick it up — a bagel or a burger or, at least once, a piece of salmon — and pay out of their own pocket. Later, the district attorney’s office would reimburse them.

That bit of convenience for the elected chief prosecutor in Brooklyn went on for months after he took office in 2014, and included meals for Mr. Thompson when he worked nights and weekends.

The man worked nights and weekends. Do you think Cy Vance works nights and weekends? And misses all those garden parties in the Hamptons? Get a grip.*

But the routine violated New York City’s rules, and on Wednesday the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board announced that it had levied a fine of $15,000 in a settlement with Mr. Thompson. The sanction was among the largest in a decade and the first against a district attorney since the creation of the board in 1990, according to the agency’s records.

Mr. Thompson — who earns a salary of $212,800 from the city and well over that amount in payments from his former law firm, according to city disclosure reports — acknowledged in the settlement disposition spending $2,043 from the district attorney’s office to pay for his weekday meals from January through May 2014, and then an additional $1,489 in office money for dinners and weekend meals through February 2015.

Well, that’s pretty embarrassing for a prosecutor. And at $15 grand, I sure hope it was wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, not that farm-bred crap.

It’s not as if Thompson didn’t offer up an act of contrition:

“I accept complete responsibility for this violation and regret that it occurred,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement. “As Brooklyn district attorney, I am committed to maintaining the integrity of my office.”

Damn good of him to accept complete responsibility, as if someone else might have chowed down on the salmon. But that snarky Appellate Squawk isn’t satisfied. She can be very tough on prosecutors, you know.

This was apparently the same crew that routinely assures ADA’s that there’s no such thing as Brady material that has to be turned over to the defense. Thompson kept on billing the public for his feed until, as he delicately put it, “I later realized this practice violated City rules.”

Slapped on the wrist by the COIB and fined $15,000, he explained that he’d paid back the dinner money, saying, “I accept complete responsibility for this violation and regret that it occurred.” A new era has dawned in Brooklyn.

Law is hard, and who can worry about ethics rules when they’re hungry? Squawk can be so heartless. And why is it not enough that Thompson accepted “complete responsibility”? What does she want of this hungry man?

But Squawk has access to secret transcripts of proceedings that rarely see the light of day, showing the consequences of Ken Thompson’s heartfelt apology.

Judge: The charge is robbery, gun possession and loitering in the park after sunset. How do you plead?

Defendant: I accept complete responsibility for this violation and regret that it occurred. Plus, I gave the wallet back.

Judge: Very well. You will be fined the same proportion of your income as the District Attorney was. Pay the two dollars to the clerk downstairs.

This is what makes our legal system great.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

You want equality? We got it in spades.

Prosecutor: Violation! Since when is bilking the City out of five and a half grand a violation? It’s a felony if there ever was one – [Supervisor whispers in his ear] Oh, sorry.

Defendant : – and regret that it occurred.

Judge:  Of course, how could you possibly have known? The rules are so confusing. Go in peace, my child.

Go in peace, dear readers.

*Then again, Cy has a few bucks at his disposal with which to purchase a delicious meal or two, as long as it’s in his version of the public interest.

23 thoughts on “A District Attorney’s Gotta Eat, You Know

  1. B. McLeod

    $15,000 was probably enough of a fine for him to notice (and regret that the violation occurred).

    1. SHG Post author

      A story in the Times would have been sufficient to accomplished that. Is a $15k fine enough for a whole lot of people who do wrong to make them notice and regret getting caught? Yet they go to prison instead. Weird how that happens.

  2. delurking

    Mens Rea?

    I doubt the guy cared about the cost of the food. That’s probably just the way things were done in his previous jobs, and it never occurred to him that there would be rules against it. And, it isn’t like he received no punishment – he reimbursed the city for his unauthorized expenses and paid a $15K fine.

    Certainly, we can complain about all of the laws that require punishment even if there was no intent, but I’m not sure that I would add more laws to that list just in the name of fairness.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, if you doubt it, then that’s all that matters. Because you. Except he was told it violated the rules and he did it anyway. Guess you would do better to first learn what you’re talking about before making blind assumptions based on your feelz.

      1. delurking

        “Except he was told it violated the rules and he did it anyway. ”

        That is not what the NYT article says. Paragraph 10 describes the timeline.

        1. SHG Post author

          In his disposition statement, Mr. Thompson said he was informed in May 2014 that using money from the district attorney’s office to pay for daytime meals “could violate New York City policy”; he paid back the costs that July. After consulting with his staff, Mr. Thompson approved a new policy to allow the office to pay “only my night and weekend meal expenses” while working, he said, a practice that continued until February 2015.

          A red flag was raised in May, 2014. At that point, he knew or should have known (and willfully ignored) the rules and continued the practice for almost another year.

  3. Austin Collins

    Quite the juxtaposition in articles today. I’m curious what substantially differentiates the disdain heaped on Judge Persky from the disdain heaped Ken Thompson for you?

    Would hate to see a new culinariast movement emerge to rail against the pateisthaiarchist establishment.

    1. SHG Post author

      It would be cruel to leave you curious, no matter how painfully obvious the answer is. Does anyone demand Ken Thompson’s forcible removal for failure to adhere to ideological orthodoxy? I would have thought that no one capable of reading would require something so obvious as this to be explicitly explained. And here I am, totally wrong.

      Wait, you had somebody read this to you, amirite? Or maybe draw a picture in crayon?

      1. JimEd

        I looked it up and crayons are 5 to 10 cents a piece now even if you buy in bulk. That’s just fucking absurd.

      2. Patrick Maupin

        “ideological orthodoxy”

        Well, yeah, I do. I’m ideologically opposed to the people in charge not coloring between the lines.

      3. Austin Collins

        Crayon may well be the appropriate tool if i need to draw a line for you between the structural and functional similarities between this post and the posts of others you so disdain.

        Then again, maybe pictures were a great suggestion; one line wouldn’t be sufficient to illustrate how face-palmingly illogical the claim “they’re totes different, because we’re not trying to push him from office!” is. Including any intermediate step between monkey see and monkey do would require at least two lines.

        Though i do now have a great new image of you in the trenches: the old segment from PeeWee’s Playhouse named “Connect the dots.”

  4. Sgt. Schultz

    I see what you did there. To deflect disdain from being heaped on either Persky or Thompson, you wrote a comment so stupid that it would draw all disdain away from them and onto you. Well played.

  5. Appellate Squawk

    We share Scott’s frustration with the “there-there, he didn’t know” reaction. The full quote from Thompson’s deposition is that he was just so darn busy reorganizing the DA’s Office, he wasn’t paying attention to the rules. What other rules is he too busy to know about? Who else in his office is too busy to know the rules? And these are people making a comfy career of throwing others in jail.

    And finally: what kind of jerk has people pick up his lunch and doesn’t pony up the money right away?

  6. john Neff

    The policy of making the fine three times the value of what was stolen is more than a 1,000 years old. I guess precedent has a long reach but 1,000 years seems a bit long.

  7. SamS

    The DA’s meal policy violates the income tax laws. When a company pays personal expenses for an employee, including paying for meals after hours and weekends, the employee has income and must report it on his tax return. If the DA didn’t report the cost of the meals on his tax return, then he has committed income tax evasion

    1. B. McLeod

      He’s probably OK taxwise if he paid it back in the same tax year. There is, however, a professional conduct issue here, to the extent he spent client funds on personal meals.

    2. Patrick Maupin

      This may be making people stupider. For “normal” employees (don’t know if the DA qualifies, since he’s nominally in charge), meals provided on the employer’s business premises for the employer’s convenience may be excluded from wages. Even cash to the employee for meals may be excluded, if it is either de minimus or for occasional meals during overtime.

      1. delurking

        Similarly, per diem allowances while an employee is traveling are not taxable as income, even if used for meals that occur when the employee is not working and at restaurants.

      2. SamS

        From the facts presented this was not done occasionally but was a regular basis and was not de minimus as determined by the Conflicts of Interest Board. One other factor the IRS uses to determine whether it is income or a fringe benefit is the standard practice of the industry. In this case I think the industry is government, not private legal work, and New York State has made it clear this is not an acceptable practice.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          You nicely retreated from one false generalization all the way back to the facts at hand for this specific case, only to turn around and make what appears to be another false generalization. The private employer’s guide to fringe benefits and the government employer’s guide to fringe benefits are pretty comparable, and the latter doesn’t say anything about how if New York says it’s bad, the feds agree. (Of course, if any employer feels that an employee is stealing, the IRS will definitely want its cut.)

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