The former site of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue sits empty on Wednesday, July 22, 2015; Edward Morris, the hall's executive director, speaks on Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.
The former site of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue sits empty on Wednesday, July 22, 2015; Edward Morris, the hall's executive director, speaks on Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame Dinner. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas; Joseph D. Sullivan)
Edward Morris Sr., 65, the executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, pleaded guilty in 2001 to charges that included defrauding...
Edward Morris Sr., 65, the executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, pleaded guilty in 2001 to charges that included defrauding the government while he was a Suffolk County undersheriff and the sheriff's campaign treasurer.
The vast majority of the grant money was specifically earmarked for Morris to create a museum out of a former Patchogue bank annex that had been donated to the nonprofit, but records show the organization ultimately sold the property for nearly $1.8 million, leaving the museum essentially homeless.
DocumentsSuffolk Sports Hall of Fame
: Financial recordsSee alsoMore on Morris' backers, Suffolk Hall of FameSee alsoRead Spota's letter to Newsday
As a result, people hoping to experience a vestige of local sports glory -- or to see what their tax dollars have bought -- would need to go to Long Island MacArthur Airport, buy an airline ticket, navigate through security and head to the Southwest Airlines terminal.
There lies the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, where Morris has arranged oversized photos of sports figures such as retired NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, former professional wrestler Mick Foley, boxing champion Buddy McGirt and wrestler and coach Jumper Leggio.
Newsday's examination of available documents found that the Hall's journey to airline gates A3 and A4 came after Morris
brought a grand vision to an initially modest organization, one that everyday Long Islanders showed little interest in supporting but which Morris' many friends in politics were willing to sustain with taxpayer-funded assistance.
In the end, those tax dollars weren't enough to keep the Hall's museum doors open.
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lamented how difficult it is to raise money for the Hall compared with an organization such as the Police Athletic League
, which receives steady donations from parents.
"Nobody cares about the Hall of Fame unless they're in the Hall of Fame or have relatives in the Hall of Fame," Morris
said costly upkeep, waning donations and nearly nonexistent interest from the public forced him to sell the Patchogue annex.
But the grant money the Hall received to convert that property into a museum are "all dollar-for-dollar accounted for," Morris
InvestigationsSuffolk Sports Hall of Fame
: Financial records
In a recent phone interview Morris
praised Bellone for working to secure free future exhibit space at the Riverhead County Center
and Long Island Ducks stadium in Central Islip, both county-owned facilities.
said the Hall will not share any of its proceeds from the event with Bellone and emphasized that the organization was not honoring the county executive to curry favor.
"I pick people because they did something for us in the past," Morris
"Trust me, it's not that we want to brown-nose the county executive."
Edward J. Morris, executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, speaks during the opening of the organization's exhibit honoring county athletes at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
A spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, whose office is responsible for supervising charitable organizations, said state law allows felons such as Morris to run nonprofits, and those charities can also accept public funds, except in certain cases.
, right, then a Suffolk County undersheriff, is escorted into the courthouse in Riverhead on June 6, 2000, by one of his attorneys, James O'Rourke.
Morris, who pleaded guilty in 2001 to a felony charge of defrauding the government, among other offenses, is now executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame.
, the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame
has eight officers and trustees largely consisting of men prominent in business or government, as well as a separate "induction committee" made up mostly of school district athletic directors.
Edward Morris, left, then a Suffolk County undersheriff, outside the judge's chambers in criminal court in Riverhead on June 6, 2000, with one of his attorneys, Thomas Spota, now Suffolk County district attorney.
LoNigro defended Morris
by saying "we wouldn't have a Hall of Fame" without him and added that Morris
"doesn't make any decisions for the Hall of Fame outside of his board's approval."
A review of the documents that tax-exempt organizations are required to file with state and federal regulators leaves an incomplete picture of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame's
finances, including how much Morris
has personally benefited in his
role as executive director.
The organization's 2013 tax filings show that the nonprofit spent $20,718 on a 2010 Ford Flex, and Morris
confirmed that he
drives it for personal use when he's
not shuttling around memorabilia.
also lists more than $87,000 in automotive and travel expenses between 2001 and 2013, but there is no further explanation in the documents.
After declaring an annual salary that ranged from $50,000 to more than $75,000 between 2000 and 2008, Morris
-- who also receives an annual pension of more than $75,000 from his
career in the sheriff's office, records show -- did not list his
compensation between 2009 and 2013, the last year available.
Nonprofits are not required to declare officers' income if their annual salary is under $100,000.
said that he
voluntarily took a pay cut to $36,000 annually "when we had hard times."
, left, then a Suffolk County undersheriff, is escorted from the judge's chambers at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead on June 6, 2000, with one of his attorneys, William Wexler.
declined to provide a detailed account of the Hall's
funds, but based on the submitted documents, the nonprofit had total assets of $762,211 as of February 2014.
said most of the money from the property sales went to pay back taxes, utilities and other bills for the Patchogue building, and "we have extra money in the banks."
declined to give a specific amount and would only say "not hundreds of thousands or millions, but it's enough to get by."
After the initial phone interview, Morris declined to answer follow-up questions, stating in a text message to a Newsday reporter that he chose "not to provide any further info at this time."
George Waldbauer, a co-founder of the Hall and the executive director of the Suffolk PAL, said he
is not concerned about Morris'
handling of the nonprofit's finances.
Edward Morris, executive director of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame on Friday May 8, 2015 at the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.
"I know Eddie, I trust him," said Waldbauer, who is also the Hall's vice president.
Spota is Morris' longtime friend and was his defense attorney when Spota's predecessor as Suffolk district attorney brought charges against Morris in 2000.
Set on Patchogue streets and in school hallways, the $25,000 video featured roughly 20 child actors and cameos by retired New York Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson and retired Jets tackle Marty Lyons, both Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductees, Morris said.
actually paid the film company that produced the video, Morris
wanted to have a big press rollout, but I don't know if that happened," Harwood said.
Current Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who also controls an asset forfeiture fund, said Morris contacted him in 2012 or 2013 seeking money to make a similar film.
What the Hall did have was Morris
, a consummate fundraiser with political clout and connections.
He became full-time executive director of the nonprofit in 1999, having retired from the sheriff's office -- where he had worked since he was 21 -- six months before he was indicted on 89 criminal counts in which he was charged with fostering widespread corruption at the county jail.
boss, then-Sheriff Patrick Mahoney, faced 55 counts.
The lawmen were accused of using the jail as a campaign headquarters, taking