Ex-Suffolk GOP leader John Powell dies of heart attack

02/15/2012 12:51 PM |

Former Suffolk County Republican chairman John Powell died of a heart attack Wednesday, Feb. 15, several East End GOP officials confirmed. He was 51.

A Republican stalwart who led the party during its heyday in the 1990s, Mr. Powell, also a former state Assemblyman, was sentenced in April 2000 to two years and three months in prison for bribe-taking and involvement in an illegal truck chop shop.

The Medford native was released from prison in 2002 and he had recently re-emerged on the Brookhaven political scene.

GOP officials remembered him Wednesday not as a fallen leader, but rather as a man whose political success was second to none.

“John Powell’s record as chairman serves as the benchmark all political leaders strive for,” said current Brookhaven Republican chairman Jesse Garcia.

Mr. Garcia called the “shocking” news of his friend’s death both “tragic and sad.”

Mr. Powell rose to the top of Suffolk County politics while operating a paving and infrastructure company in addition to a political consultancy firm.

“His political career overshadowed his great success as a businessman, family man and community leader,” Mr. Garcia said. “He was a great man who always put family and community first.”

Mr. Powell pleaded guilty of participating in a 1990s scheme to traffic stolen trucks and accept bribes in exchange for allowing access to the Brookhaven Town landfill. A key player with local ties to the case, Calverton sand and gravel company owner Michael Cholowsky admitted in court that he paid Mr. Powell $20,000 to secure access to the landfill in Yaphank.

The Powell case led to a massive probe of the Brookhaven Town landfill by federal officials.

Despite his fall from the top of the county Republican party, Mr. Powell had made a bit of a comeback in recent years. The Brookhaven GOP even honored him at a dinner last month, according to a report on Newsday.com.

“John Powell’s life-story includes many chapters dedicated to public service,” Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said in a statement. “Though some of our recent disputes have been widely publicized, I will always remember him as a brilliant politician and charismatic leader who was a good family man.”

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