Time for DA to probe Nassau contracts – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the May 29-June 4, 2015 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Since Sen. Dean Skelos and his son were arrested by the feds on May 4, the pols at Mineola’s county courthouse have been scurrying around, looking for cover.

Nassau’s political class is in a panic because members are concerned their phone conversations may have been tapped or that a colleague may have been wired when discussing pending county contracts.

What really jarred nerves was the paragraph in the complaint against Skelos describing his conversation with County Executive Ed Mangano after attending the wake of a murdered NYPD police officer.

It reads: “…while walking together outside the wake, Dean Skelos asked the Nassau County executive and the chief deputy Nassau County executive about the status of payments to the Environmental Technology Company. After consulting by telephone with another Nassau County official, the chief deputy Nassau County executive informed Dean Skelos that the payments would be made and took steps to expedite the payments due to Dean Skelos’ official position.”

People are asking, was Mangano wired? Did he give up this information in a deposition? Or, was there a surveillance truck focused on them?

Whatever the explanation, Nassau pols are worried additional damaging evidence could be in the hands of the U.S. attorney.

While investigations into Nassau’s procurement practices may be small potatoes for the U.S. attorney, they are not for the district attorney’s office. The top two contracts acting D.A. Madeline Singas should focus on are the turf field deal and the sewer lease proposal.

The heavy push to get the artificial turf deal done prior to the Skelos blowup should raise eyebrows because it’s expensive, it’s illogically timed during a fiscal crisis, it costs more than it brings in and it has previously been “gamed” around Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s contract rejection of an earlier attempt. Yet it is a single-minded focus of a county with other significant issues to address. So what exactly is in it, and for whom? And, was the “free” material provided on earlier fields paid for with federal funds or other contracts with these vendors?

The sewer lease deal will generate millions in fees for lawyers, lobbyists, investment bankers and financiers, but cost the county exorbitant “interest,” perhaps in the form of vastly increased water and sewer fees. At the same time that proposed rules would show who lobbied, who benefits and the like, the sewer lease deal hasn’t been heard of since current events broke. Perhaps because the answers to those questions would be either uncomfortable or, along with the transcripts of any related discussions heard or overheard, eerily reminiscent of what we’ve been reading lately in the text of criminal complaints.

Then there’s the NIFA board on which I served from 2010 to 2014. For the fourth meeting in a row, NIFA has turned down borrowing for judgments. Perhaps NIFA is finally out of the business of enabling that particular financial and fiscal mistake. Are board members annoyed with the county’s lack of progress, realizing the errors of their ways in 2014, or feeling the heat of public scrutiny that comes with doing a favor for a political patron?

NIFA comes under the state’s Public Authorities 2009 Reform Act, which requires board members, as fiduciaries, to act independently of elected officials and to give a “contemporaneous record” to NIFA officials of “any conversation in person or by telephonic or other remote means, or corresponding between any lobbyist engaged in the act of lobbying….”

Here are a few questions the D.A. should ask:

Did any NIFA members receive marching orders from a member of the governor’s staff?

Did NIFA members properly report meetings with lobbyists who attempt to influence any determination “by a public official…related to a government procurement”?

If NIFA members dined with lobbyists in a restaurant or a township-owned club (for example, Frank’s Steak House or Harbor Links), did they pay their fair share for the meal and adult refreshments and not a nominal amount?

If D.A. Singas, who boasts she is a “career prosecutor who brings a commitment to justice, compassion and integrity” to her job, wants to prove her mettle, she’ll not hesitate to investigate Nassau’s broken procurement process and expose any pay-to-play shenanigans.

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