Castro’s exit from the DA’s race, stage right?

The race for Westchester County District Attorney just got a little more interesting, at least politically.

My colleague, Jon Bandler (who has been doing the heavy lifting on the DA race while I chase killers, thugs and crooks) wrote a great story from a tip I got about Castro’s maneuvering toward a judgeship to escape another election night defeat. Click here to read the story.

Our columnist, Phil Reisman, has an amusing take on the situation. Click here to read his thoughts on the matter.

Castro cancels Labor Day press conference

Apparently Westchester DA hopeful Tony Castro wanted a 3-day weekend, too.

Castro, who is challenging District Attorney Janet DiFiore in the Sept, 15 Democratic primary, postponed his scheduled news conference today to Wednesday, Sept. 9. The reason: “in consideration of the holiday and the reduced media staff.” He kept the time and place the same: 10:30 a.m. at his campaign headquarters on East Post Road.

While Castro’s people won’t say what this news conference is all about, I don’t think he’s dropping out of the race. There are too many “Castro for DA” signs all over the place, including 3 (!) on Westchester Avenue near the entrance of The Journal News. But I wonder if he’ll finally answer questions about the controversy surrounding a $200,000 gift to Castro’s kids from an ill man who made Castro executor of his will. Click here to read the story from my colleague Jon Bandler.

Castro’s Labor Day press conference

Who holds a press conference on Labor Day? Apparently Tony Castro, who is challenging Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary:

This was the email from the Castro campaign this afternoon:

“Please be advised there will be a press conference at the Tony Castro Headquarters at 10:30 am on September 7th. Thank you for your continued interest.”

With the Democratic primary less than two weeks away, I can’t imagine what this will be about.

The battle of the shield

Democrat Tony Castro, who posing a primary challenge to Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, got ensnared in his own criticism over her use of the DA’s shield on her campaign website.

This was Castro’s press release, edited for length:

Castro: DiFiore Use of State Coat of Arms in Campaign is Illegal

Tony Castro today called upon the Attorney General to intervene and stop District Attorney Janet DiFiore from using the State coat of arms in her campaign advertising including her web-site, literature, television advertising and signage.  (Under state law — see legal background below — the State coat of arms can be used only for official business unless a specific statutory exception is made.)

“It’s hard to say what is more disturbing – the fact that despite being the District Attorney Janet DiFiore ignores the law or in the alternative that she is ignorant of the law,” Castro said.

“In the 1990s, the then Attorney General stopped The Fraternal Order of New York State Troopers from using the State coat of arms on their stationery because they are a private organization,” Castro said. “If it is illegal for The Fraternal Order of New York State Troopers to use the State coat of arms in their advertising, then it is illegal for Janet DiFiore to use it in her political campaign advertising.  The pertinent law has not changed.”

General Business Law §136 provides, in pertinent part, “Any person who: a. … shall place or cause to be placed … any advertisement, of any nature upon any flag, standard, color, shield or ensign of … the state of New York … or shall expose or cause to be exposed to public view any such flag, standard, color, shield or ensign … to which shall be attached, appended, affixed or annexed … any advertisement of any nature … shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” The Attorney General of New York has held that General Business Law §136 (a recodification of Penal Law §1425) prohibits the use of the coat of arms for advertising purposes unless the advertising matter is official in character and authorized and provided for by statute (1930 N.Y. Op. Att’y Gen. 115; 1934 N.Y. Op. N.Y. Att’y Gen. 331; 1979 Op. N.Y. Att’y Gen. 63. The New York A.G. has also opined that the enforcement of this statute is for the District Attorney (1947 Op. N.Y. Att’y Gen. Dec. 12).

Now comes the irony … DiFiore’s campaign manager, Mary Kornman, pointed out that not only can DiFiore lawfully display the shield of the office she now holds, BUT THAT CASTRO PUT THE DA SHIELD ON HIS OWN WEBSITE!

“Mr. Castro’s credibility is strained beyond tolerance when he objects to the use of the shield of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, at the same time that he displays the very same shield on the home page of his own campaign website,” Gorman said.

Coincidentally, the shield has been removed from Castro’s website.

Oil dumper: Castro’s out, Quinn is in

Accused oil spilling contractor Anthony Castrella has hired a big gun to help him stay out of jail.

Acclaimed Westchester defense lawyer Andrew Quinn is now representing Castrella and his company, Cast Construction, which spilled hundreds of gallons of heating oil in Harrison in 2007. Quinn, a seasoned trial lawyer, appeared with Casterella today before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary.

Castrella was being represented by the firm of Gallo, Feinstein and Naishtut, who assigned Tony Castro to be of counsel to the case. Castro, as you may know, is running for Westchester County District Attorney in a Democratic primary against DA Janet DiFiore. When asked about the switch, Castro said he was “only covering” Casterella’s defense on behalf of the firm and that the firm, not him personally, was relieved of the case.

Quinn has the unenviable task of arguing the case before a judge who recently gave Casterella an ultimatum: go to jail for six months or go to trial on criminal environmental charges.

Neary was unhappy that after many months, Casterella had yet to pay the full $75,000 fine that was part of his plea of guilty to felony endangering public health or the environment. If he had paid the fine in full, he would be out on five years’ probation.

Now, he’s paying Quinn instead and facing up to four years in prison.

Casterella is accused of rupturing an oil line during a property renovation at 57 Kenilworth Road in December 2007. The rip caused more than 200 gallons of heating oil to seep into a neighbor’s property, the groundwater and a quarter-acre of town wetlands. Prosecutors said Casterella made no effort to clean up the mess.

Casterella is facing the felony environmental charge as well as misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records and criminal mischief. He could be fined $150,000 if convicted.

Quinn is well-known around these parts as a legal eagle, having gotten two cops off the hook in high-profile cases. One was ex-Mount Kisco officer George Bubaris, who was charged with manslaughter in the 2007 death of drunken immigrant Rene Javier Perez. The other was Yonkers officer Wayne Simoes, who was facing federal civil rights charges for allegedly body-slamming Irma Marquez at a bar. Currently, he is defending a Sleepy Hollow police officer accused of violating the rights of two civilians during separate incidents.

More endorsements for DiFiore

Westchester County’s Democratic Congressional reps came out in support of incumbent District Attorney Janet DiFiore this morning.

Here’s some of what they said, according to the press release from DiFiore’s campaign:

* U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison): “Janet has been a champion for public safety and fairness and integrity in the justice system. She and I have worked together to protect many of the most vulnerable in our community, including children and victims of domestic violence. Her skills and experiences as a prosecutor, judge, community leader, and advocate have made Janet DFiore an effective DA.”

* U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx):  “Janet DiFiore’s background as a judge, as Assistant District Attorney, and now as District Attorney has given her experience and ability to continue in that high office where she has served with distinction. She has been industrious and innovative, has promoted public safety, fairness in prosecutions, and has upheld the integrity of the office.”

* U.S. Rep. John Hall (D-Dover Plains): “She has a proven record of accomplishments such as creating a task force to investigate mortgage fraud, prosecuting environmental crimes, internet crimes, and violent felonies. I know the communities I represent are safer because of her actions.”

Westchester DA fundraising facts

Yesterday, I reported that incumbent District Attorney Janet DiFiore had $420,000 in her campaign war chest. Turns out her opponents are far, far behind. GOP candidate Dan Schorr has about $60,000 in the election piggy bank, while Democratic primary challenger Tony Castro has only $9,200.

DiFiore has some BIG spenders giving money to her campaign. One guy, Dennis S. Hersch of Manhattan (Upper West Side) donated a whopping $26,000 in May — the largest single donation this year. Other five-figure donors included Peter A. Hochfelder of Purchase ($25,000) and Ettore V. Biagioni of Bronxville ($10,000). Many, many people donated between $5,000 and $1,000.

Castro, apparently, isn’t worried about having 2 percent of what DiFiore has to spend. He told my colleague Rich Liebson (who attended his twice-rescheduled press conference today) that he is confident that he’ll have enough money to get his message out before the primary. That could mean some heavy-hitting contributions over the next two months. We’ll see.

Castro had about $80,000 to start the year and raised $22,000. But he spend more than $93,000 — most of that doled out in increments of a few hundred dollars each to more than 90 people who collected signatures for him.

An interesting expense on his campaign finance report: three parking tickets in April from the City of White Plains. Anyone who parks a car in White Plains on a regular basis has gotten the dreaded red ticket on their windshield (myself included). I asked Castro if they were his parking tickets. He said he didn’t know about them. “But I’m sure they were from someone working hard on the campaign,” he added.

Dan Schorr’s numbers are as follows: He started out the year with $118,000, raised nearly $57,000 and spent $115,000. His biggest single expense was a $42,000 loan repayment to Daniel R. Schorr (likely for out-of-pocket expenses paid up front) followed by printing and mailing costs.

An interesting campaign expense from Schorr: $625 on Facebook advertisements. He’s the only candidate of the three who is on Facebook, and he Twitters, too. Funny how none of his ads have ever popped up on my Facebook page. Then again, Schorr isn’t one of my “Facebook friends” — and neither is anyone who I could potentially write about for the newspaper.

DiFiore’s campaign piggy bank

DiFiore has 500,000 reasons to be happy with her campaign fundraising; that’s how many dollars the incumbent Westchester district attorney has raised in her bid for a second term, according to her campaign press office.

She has $420,000 cash on hand to outspend her Democratic opponent, Tony Castro (who postponed his still-mysterious press conference in front of the Board of Elections until tomorrow) and to take on GOP rival Dan Schorr in the fall.

“I am pleased and proud to have broad-based support from so many people throughout Westchester and New York state who appreciate the quality and the integrity of the work I am doing,” DiFiore said in a written statement.  “The list of contributors includes many lawyers and former judges, prosecutors, and police officers who understand the importance of my work.”

We’ll get a list of some of those donors as soon as possible, since today was the deadline to file the mid-year campaign finance report with the New York State Board of Elections.

More support for DiFiore

Looks like more high-profile Democrats are speaking in support of keeping Janet DiFiore as Westchester County’s District Attorney:

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined other Westchester Assembly Democrats at the county’s Democratic Committee headquarters to endorse DiFiore’s re-election bid today in White Plains.

“Janet DiFiore is a tough and intelligent prosecutor who is taking the lead on the issues that matter to the residents of Westchester County – from Child Advocacy to Youth Courts, drug treatment for the addicted, to prisoner re-entry, training and education for law enforcers, to community outreach,” Silver said. “She is a great D.A., and a talented legal mind. And I am proud to endorse her re-election.”

Assembly members Amy Paulin of Scarsdale, Adam Bradley of White Plains, Mike Spano of Yonkers and Sandra Galef of Ossining also praised DiFiore’s work as D.A. over the past 4 years.

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Tony Castro is planning a press conference at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow to “make an announcement about his candidacy” for District Attorney in front of the Board of Elections. I called Castro’s campaign HQ to find out what this is about. I got the machine. And no call back.