Skelos probe sparks competing calls for change in Nassau County

James Galloway

News that a federal investigation into state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center) centers on a county public works contract sent shockwaves through Nassau County last week as officials scrambled to plug procedural loopholes and uncover what went wrong.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas opened an investigation Thursday into the county’s contracting practices. And on Tuesday, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and Democratic members of the county Legislature introduced competing legislation to increase transparency in the process.

The New York Times reported last Wednesday that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is investigating Skelos and his son Adam’s potential role in securing a storm-water treatment contract for a company that employed Adam Skelos as a consultant.

In 2013, AbTech Industries received a $12 million contract for the project, despite a bid submitted by a competitor that was $455,000 lower. The inquiry is examining whether Skelos used his position to help AbTech win the bid or the possibility of a quid pro quo agreement with the company for hiring his son, according to the New York Times.

Prosecutors, who are presenting evidence to a grand jury, have subpoenaed Long Island’s eight other state senators, including state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), and Mangano, the New York Times reported.

A spokesman for Martins did not respond to repeated calls asking for comment.  

Mangano testified before the grand jury last week, but Newsday, citing unnamed sources, said Mangano did not appear to be the subject of the investigation and there was no suggestion of wrongdoing on his part.

A spokesperson for Mangano did not respond to calls asking for comment.

Following the New York Times story about the federal investigation, Singas announced her office would conduct its own investigation, saying in a statement, “Today’s news about AbTech Industries is troubling and my Public Corruption Bureau will conduct a comprehensive review of Nassau County contracting practices.”

The office could file charges of its own if it finds evidence of wrongdoing or recommend policy or procedural changes by partnering with lawmakers. Earlier this month, Singas collaborated with Martins on legislation introduced in the state senate to harshen penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure people.

By Tuesday, both Mangano and the Democratic Minority Caucus of the Nassau County Legislature proposed separate legislation aimed at strengthening disclosure requirements and increasing transparency.

Mangano’s proposed law would require lobbyists for venders pursuing county contracts to file with the Nassau County attorney, and vendors or contractors would be required to disclose their lobbying efforts.

“This new law will bring additional transparency by requiring contractors and vendors to disclose their lobbying activities  — by registering with the County Attorney and Clerk of the Legislature — and file annual and quarterly reports, which will be available on the county website,” Mangano said in statement.

But at a press conference later Tuesday, Democratic legislators said Mangano’s proposal comes up short.

The caucus’ proposed law would additionally require disclosure of party affiliation, all contact between lobbyists or venders and public officials or employees with decision-making authority and any family ties between the vender and public employees or officials.

The law would apply retroactively to all contracts over $5 million and to all future contracts over $10,000.

“Although any disclosure is a helpful start, what we really need, that our bill provides today, is clarification that will force clear disclosure of relationships and communications between consultants and lobbyists, county employees and elected officials,” Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said. “The administration’s bill only requires [disclosure of] lobbyists, a term which is hard to define. Having a reference book, though helpful, is not sufficient.”

A spokeswoman for the minority caucus, Lauren Corcoran-Doolin, said New York City and Suffolk County already have strong disclosure requirements and the Democrats’ proposal has “real teeth and would actually prevent what happened.”

The county Department of Public Works evaluates bids, based both on price and a technical score representing the quality of the bid, which are then submitted to the county Legislature’s Rules Committee for approval.

A spokeswoman for AbTech told the New York Times that Adam Skelos had about a dozen meetings and phone calls with a senior public works official who was a member of the committee that evaluated the bids for the storm water treatment contract.

A spokesman for Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicollelo (R-Mineola), a member of the rules committee, said he declined to comment. County Legislator Kevan Abrahams, the head of the minority caucus, said he and his party were unaware of AbTech’s ties to the Skeloses when the committee approved the bids.

The public works department gave AbTech a technical score of 83.7, while the lowest bidder, Newport Engineering, received a technical score of 64.0, county documents show.

In a memo to legislators accompanying the scores, the department of public works said “the proposal from Newport Engineering did not include adequate information” regarding apiece of technology in its proposal and that Newport’s construction costs were “significantly higher” than AbTech, though the bid itself was lower.

“In our professional judgment, the proposal submitted by Abtech industries, having received the highest technical rating and proposing a reasonable cost for the services represents the best value to the County,” the memo says.

Capital New York reported Tuesday that a former Nassau County attorney responsible approving the contract, John Ciampoli, is a former and current top aid to Skelos.

Ciamploli now works as the Senate legislative council, according to Capital.

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