Congressional candidate accuses former town Dem head of improper behavior

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Michael Weinstock, a Great Neck attorney, is challenging Rep. Tom Suozzi. (Photo courtesy of Michael Weinstock)
Michael Weinstock, a Great Neck attorney, is challenging Rep. Tom Suozzi. (Photo courtesy of Michael Weinstock)

A Great Neck lawyer has accused Gerard Terry, the former North Hempstead Democratic Party chairman who is serving a prison term for tax evasion, of having propositioned him to have sex when he was a young political activist.

The lawyer, Michael Weinstock, 47, who served as an assistant district attorney in Kings County for five years, made the allegations in a letter made available to Blank Slate Media and interviews.

He made the claims in announcing that he would run against incumbent Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) for the Democratic nomination in the 3rd Congressional District. He said he was running in part over unhappiness with Suozzi’s backing of Terry.

Weinstock alleged that the first instance happened in 1996, when Terry allegedly said that as his mentor, “I want to spend lots of time with you. I want to take you on overnight trips and open doors for you,” and “I want to do things with you that you’ve never done before.”

Another alleged instance came after Weinstock volunteered for a friend’s political campaign after he graduated from law school in 1998, he said, when he went into Terry’s office.

“After a little chit chat, Terry grasped my forearm and told me, ‘I want to see more of you.’ I squirmed away and ran to the door,” Weinstock alleged. “While I was running to the elevator, Terry stood in the doorframe of his office, pointing his finger at me and shouting, ‘I remember who my friends are, Michael! You ask around!’”

“When I was a prosecutor, I encouraged dozens of men and women to testify about sex crimes,” Weinstock said. “It would be wrong if I pretended that none of this happened.”

Weinstock said he never had a sexual relationship with Terry.

Weinstock said his decision to run was sparked, in part, by Suozzi and other political leaders writing letters to a federal judge supporting Terry, of Roslyn Heights, after he was convicted for failing to pay $1.4 million in federal and state taxes over 15 years. The letters cited Terry’s “strong character and commitment” in a bid for lenience in sentencing.

Prosecutors said that Terry failed to file income tax returns from 2000 to 2015, while making about $250,000 annually from various jobs – avoiding more than $992,057 in federal income taxes – and serving as North Hempstead’s Democratic Party chairman.

They also said Terry “routinely provided false, misleading and incomplete information” to the Internal Revenue Service, once created a checking account in the name of a corporate nominee to conceal income, and “pressured colleagues and subordinates to not comply with IRS notices of levy.”

Terry’s defense said he went through “a major change in his life in the early 2000s,” around the same time he neglected his tax obligations, which “some might describe” as a “mid-life crisis, when someone becomes aware of their age and begins making decision that are inconsistent” with who they are.

Terry pleaded guilty in fall 2017 and is serving a three-year prison sentence. His release date is Dec. 23, 2020, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Dan Perez, an attorney who represented Terry in his tax cases, could not be reached via email or phone for comment.

Terry had served as counsel for the North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals and held jobs with the North Hempstead Housing Authority, the villages of Port Washington North and Manorhaven, the Nassau County Board of Elections, the Freeport Community Development Agency, Long Beach Housing Authority and the Roosevelt Public Library.

Politicians’ support was not withdrawn after Terry’s sentencing when reports surfaced of Terry practicing law without a license, as he was disbarred, Weinstock said.

“Practicing law without a license is a felony and I was certain that Congressman Suozzi would show some leadership and withdraw his letter of support,” Weinstock said. “It never happened. Congressman Suozzi continued to support his friend.”

Weinstock said he has told people about his experience for a year, including Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs and his local assemblyman, Anthony D’Urso, and also met with an FBI agent and a prosecutor about the incident.

Weinstock said he “knew better than to go to a prosecutor” in Nassau County, citing Terry’s influence. He also said that prosecutors and police can only move forward with the evidence they have and that when it’s only in-person encounters, it amounts to a “he said, he said.”

He also said that Suozzi either would have known his friend had made inappropriate sexual advances “and chose to look the other way” or did not do his due diligence “before writing a letter of support for a convicted felon.”

Asked to respond in a phone call on Tuesday afternoon, Suozzi said he does not have a comment on the allegations, adding,  “The bottom line is it’s much too early to be discussing politics and I wish him all the best.”

Jacobs said that he and Weinstock spoke about a year ago. The alleged instances involving Terry arose in the context of Weinstock mulling a primary challenge against Suozzi, to whom he was “responding in anger,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said that to him, it didn’t make much sense for Weinstock to run against Suozzi over this because many others wrote letters supporting Terry and he believes the alleged instances are not “something that’s spoken widely of.”

“I know that Tom didn’t know him,” Jacobs said, referring to Weinstock.  “I don’t know what Tom would have known about anybody else because I don’t think it’s something that’s widely spoken of” and had “nothing to do with his position as it was.”

“I can’t say what’s known amongst Democrats,” Jacobs later said. “I can only say that I’ve heard from at least one other person that said Gerard made an advance. No one ever alleged that he touched him or anything other than make an advance toward them.”

Weinstock served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with Vigilant Fire Company for 12 years and five years as an assistant district attorney in the Special Victims Bureau, handling sexual abuse and domestic violence cases in Brooklyn.

“I think being firefighter and a sex crime prosecutor are both ideal because they both demonstrate I’m on my game, I’m a hard worker, I’m able to find common ground very comfortably,” Weinstock said.

He said he is running for Congress because “kvetching” – a Yiddish word meaning griping and complaining – “isn’t enough,” and that he wanted to give New Yorkers a representative that they could be proud of.

Weinstock said that he “didn’t grow up privileged” and found a family in his local fire department, which encouraged him to advance himself and go to law school. He then graduated from St. John’s Law School, was hired as an assistant district attorney, and asked to be assigned to the Special Victims Bureau.

“Being a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn tested me,” Weinstock said. “It’s a tough environment working with very tough people doing really really challenging work that’s important.”

During that time, he was among the first responders on Sept. 11, 2001. Weinstock said that when he saw smoke pouring from the World Trade Center, he ran outside and waved down an ambulance. After that, he helped unload medical supplies.

While his best friend, Jonathan Ielpi, a firefighter, was killed in the line of duty, Weinstock survived. Weinstock said he returned to Ground Zero multiple times and assisted fellow firefighters.

Weinstock later founded his own general practice in Great Neck. He also used his skills as a lawyer to help reunite Assemblyman D’Urso with a Jewish family he and his parents helped rescue during the Holocaust.

“If I get elected to represent New York in Congress, it would be a wonderful reminder to everybody of what a very special place New York is. And that alone is a significant accomplishment,” Weinstock said. “We live in the most special place in the world, but if you look at our elected leaders, you wouldn’t know it.”

If elected, Weinstock would be the first openly gay person to represent New York City in Congress and first openly gay man serving in elected office on Long Island. The 3rd Congressional District stretches from eastern Queens through Huntington.

In regards to political issues, Weinstock tried to strike a contrast with Suozzi. Weinstock said he is open to the concept of universal health care, for example, and would not accept any donations topping $2,800.

Weinstock also said he is “not a big supporter of ICE,” citing his experience in Brooklyn where he said greater ICE involvement increased the reluctance of people to come forward or work with law enforcement.

Asked about Suozzi’s longer government experience, such as his tenure as the mayor of Glen Cove and Nassau County executive, Weinstock said he does not view it as an advantage.

“Running into burning buildings is kind of scary,” Weinstock said. “Running for office, not so much.”

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