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St. Hilaire files ethics complaints with state against Rain, asks for special prosecutor

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire fired back at District Attorney Mary E. Rain Wednesday, filing complaints against her with the state attorney general and with a state professional standards committee.

County Attorney Michael C. Crowe also filed paperwork with County Judge Jerome J. Richards for a special prosecutor.

Ms. St. Hilaire said her complaint with the Office of Attorney General Public Integrity Bureau asks for an investigation of the legal issues surrounding the turmoil among Ms. Rain, various department heads and herself over the failure to reapply for an Office of Victim Services grant and over the use of asset forfeiture money.

“I believe the attorney general will give it an objective review,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

She also has filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, 3rd Judicial Department Committee on Professional Standards to determine whether Ms. Rain’s intention to convene a grand jury and demand 10 years of records related to her accusations is a proper use of the justice system.

“I would like them to see if what’s being done is ethically correct,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

Mr. Crowe has requested Judge Richards appoint a special prosecutor rather than have Ms. Rain investigate her own allegations.

“That was done over my signature,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “I don’t believe Ms. Rain can investigate anything objectively when she is a party to it.”

Ms. St. Hilaire said that she expected Judge Richards to recuse himself because he also approved the use of asset forfeiture funds by the legislative office to install a sound system in 2004 when he was district attorney, but that sending the request to his office would ensure it was handled correctly.

Ms. Rain issued subpoenas this week to key county officials, including Ms. St. Hilaire, Treasurer Kevin M. Felt and Mr. Crowe, for 10 years of emails and financial records related to asset forfeiture. The subpoenas instructed them to appear before a grand jury July 29.

Ms. St. Hilaire said she is seeking a stay of Ms. Rain’s investigation until a special prosecutor is appointed. She said she did not want to bring county government to a halt by pulling together a decade’s worth of records if a special prosecutor determines there is no need for an investigation.

Ms. Rain said late Wednesday that the request for a special prosecutor is improper.

“First, I heard Karen say she welcomed an audit. It doesn’t look like she welcomes an audit by these actions,” she said in a written statement. “No one can ask for a special prosecutor but the elected official — the DA.”

She said a Court of Appeals ruling clearly spells out that there must be no interference with the district attorney’s ability to convene a grand jury to hear evidence of misconduct in public office.

“It’s the same as if Judge Richards tried to appoint a special police department to usurp the authority of the state police during an investigation,” she said. “A judge cannot usurp the authority of the district attorney’s office by appointing a special prosecutor. In addition, there are no defendants. It’s an investigation. The prosecutor’s office has no conflict with an investigation.”

Ms. Rain has questioned the use of more than $12,000 in forfeiture funds authorized by former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve in December for the legislative board room as a proper use of the money because it was not spent to enhance law enforcement. Ms. St. Hilaire has defended use of the money for the chamber’s sound system because the room has been used as a courtroom and occasionally as a grand jury room.

Ms. Rain also wants the grand jury to determine whether the failure to meet the deadline for the victims advocacy grant was deliberate.

The grant had been handled for years as a courtesy by the Probation Department, but Ms. St. Hilaire said the district attorney’s office shared responsibility. She said Ms. Rain’s office was as guilty as anyone for missing the deadline because it received five notices that the grant application was due.

“Her own department received notices and did nothing,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

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