The evaluator’s findings preceded the settlement of a bitter family dispute that required Croci to resign as his aunt’s financial trustee and to sign over to her the title to a $450,000 Alexandria, Virginia, town house she had purchased for him in 2005. In turn, his aunt agreed to send the Nassau District Attorney’s Office a letter withdrawing “any and all complaints” she’d made against Croci.
Croci’s aunt is Adele Smithers, a Mill Neck heiress and philanthropist known for her contributions to addiction research and treatment. The evaluator made her findings during a court action that Croci brought in Nassau County seeking to have Smithers declared mentally incapacitated and to be named her property guardian, a designation that would have given Croci broader authority over her finances.
Though Croci alleged that his aunt’s mind was failing and that she was being preyed upon by an adult son, the evaluator concluded otherwise. Smithers’ mind was intact, the evaluator found, and it was Croci, not the son, who had exploited her for his own “pecuniary gain.” Smithers, who accused Croci and a second trustee of ignoring her requests for funds — in one instance for a wheelchair — told the evaluator that her nephew’s lawsuit was nothing more than an attempt to “control her money.”
In a statement Wednesday, Croci, an attorney and U.S. Navy reservist who has served in Afghanistan and was Islip Town supervisor when he brought the proceeding, told a reporter that he always acted in the best interest of Adele Smithers.
“You have my guardianship petition I filed to protect my aunt,” Croci said. “It was honest and complete the day I signed it, under oath. And it is honest and complete now.”
Voters knew nothing of the case in 2014, when Croci, a Republican, won a seat in the State Senate. That’s because Nassau Supreme Court Judge Arthur Diamond issued an order that sealed the case file from the public. Newsday unearthed partial case records during reporting for a forthcoming series that examines whether Long Island’s state court judges have adhered to sealing rules that were established in part to protect the public’s interest in open courts.
Newsday found that Diamond, who this year was given responsibility for overseeing all guardianship proceedings in Nassau, failed to meet the standard that the state mental health law establishes for sealing guardianship cases.
A 2013 settlement of a family dispute required Tom Croci, then Islip Town supervisor, to return this town house in Alexandria, Virginia, to his aunt Adele Smithers, who purchased the property for him in 2005 for $450,000. Croci also resigned as one of her financial trustees, as part of the agreement after a Nassau court rejected his attempt to be named her property guardian. Photo Credit: Evelyn Hockstein
Diamond declined to be interviewed.
Newsday contacted Croci’s office last year and again last month in regard to the case, but got no response until this week. In his statement, Croci said that he was “not permitted to comment” further because of the sealing order. Croci’s attorney, David A. Smith, also said the order barred his client from talking. Croci’s office said he has moved to have the order rescinded so that he could speak more fully.
Not all legal experts believe that a sealing order prohibits litigants from discussing a case. A New York University law professor and legal ethicist, Stephen Gillers, said sealing orders direct clerks of courts not to disclose case records, whereas gag orders, which are rare in civil litigation, limit the freedom of the parties to discuss a case.
“A sealing order is not a gag order; a gag order is not a sealing order,” Gillers said.
Until age and Parkinson’s began to take a toll, Smithers, who is now 83, lived an influential life in the spotlight. She was married to R. Brinkley Smithers, an investment banker’s son who established the country’s largest foundation dedicated to the research and treatment of alcoholism. He died in 1994.Adele Smithers helped run the foundation and other organizations with similar goals and led the board of directors of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (Click to Continue)
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NY Sen. Tom Croci’s family dispute hidden in sealed files