's "Judge Judy" is being accused of interfering in a child rape case in which the suspect is his personal trainer and recently lived with him.
Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy has recused himself from the investigation of Alexandru Hossu, but the local sheriff claims Levy is still involved.
"He is apparently trying to influence and affect the investigation, which could be perceived as an ethical violation of his official duties and perhaps even as an attempt to undermine it," Sheriff Donald Smith said.
In a response Monday night, Levy accused the sheriff of making "unfounded allegations and misstatements."
"My office acted properly in every aspect of the investigation," he said.
The question of Levy's involvement in the case has turned into a volley of accusations between the two men, who have clashed publicly before over traffic tickets; Levy also made a veiled criticism of the sheriff's office in a news release recently.
Hossu, 35, was arrested last week on charges that he twice raped a 12-year-old girl in 2010. The sheriff said the victim, now 15, only recently reported being raped. Hossu made a brief appearance in court Tuesday in and is due back May 7. A call to his lawyer was not immediately returned.
In his initial news release, the sheriff gave the defendant's address as Levy's home in Southeast, N.Y., about 50 miles north of New York City. Later, he described Hossu as Levy's "live-in personal trainer."
Levy said the sheriff had made a mistake. The sheriff's office said Monday that Hossu did live at Levy's home, but "the specific dates" have not been determined.
Levy said he recused himself as soon as he learned that Hossu, "who my family had known for years," was under investigation. But the sheriff said an assistant district attorney had already made the recusal decision for Levy, so it "was not really his original idea at all."
Smith said Levy's commenting on the case revealed "ongoing and improper involvement."
"In my view, Mr. Levy's comments and actions would seem to suggest that, if he could have his own way, Mr. Hossu would never have been brought to justice for his crime and Mr. Levy's relationship with him would never have been brought to the light of public scrutiny," the sheriff said.
He said Levy was trying to distract public attention "from what this case is really about: the vicious rape of a little girl by a man whom he housed and hired as his personal fitness trainer."
The sheriff also said Hossu is a Romanian in the country illegally, his work visa having expired 12 years ago. Without mentioning Levy, he said he has requested a federal investigation to determine if anyone illegally "harbored, shielded, aided or abetted" Hossu before or after the alleged rape.
Levy said last week he had no idea of Hossu's immigration status.
Both Levy and Smith are Republicans. It's not clear whether there's any underlying reason for the war of words, though the men battled last year over how to handle traffic tickets. In one of his recent statements, Levy said his office has been trying "to improve the way law enforcement agencies like the Sheriff's Department handled child sexual abuse allegations."
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore, would not say whether Levy might be questioned during the investigation. But he said, "Our investigation relates to the allegations of the forcible rape."
Judy Sheindlin, who is Levy's mother, a retired New York judge and earns a reported $45 million a year as the wildly popular star of her courtroom TV show, says that's as it should be.
"The sole focus of this story should be the investigation as to whether a young girl was the victim of a very serious crime," she said Tuesday through spokesman Gary Rosen.