DAs investigating spending of Sandy funds

Robert Fante atop a pile of debris that Robert Fante atop a pile of debris that is piled up in front of his house on South Bay St in Lindenhurst. Some of this debris is his, but a lot is from his neighbors. (Nov. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

And now there are two.

Separate grand juries are looking into how tens of millions of dollars in Sandy-related monies were spent on Long Island.

The investigations by district attorneys in Nassau and Suffolk now cover work done throughout much of Long Island -- in communities where most of the region's population lives, including many that are still recovering from the storm.

In Nassau, the DA is looking into how the county awarded debris-clearing contracts; in Suffolk, the DA has sent out subpoenas to the towns of Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon.

According to a Newsday report, Suffolk's investigation likely will spread to Huntington and Smithtown, too, even as both county DAs also work to determine whether contractors properly paid wages as required by state law.

Two investigations, one covering one county and one examining three towns, with two more towns likely coming down the line -- and Long Island has yet to hit the six-month anniversary mark since Sandy.

What's going on?

It's always been a truism that disasters, even those of historic proportion, bring out the best in people. Sadly, they can bring out the worst, too.

There's plentiful reason why district attorneys Kathleen Rice in Nassau and Thomas Spota in Suffolk should investigate to determine whether criminal charges are merited.

Look to Hurricane Katrina, where a large number of people in Louisiana and Mississippi were charged or investigated by local, state and federal officials in connection with storm-related scams.

Yes, the 2005 storm and its aftermath were horrific. But the billions of dollars in relief money that poured into the area proved too tempting for many to resist.

After Katrina, there were numerous instances of sloppy paperwork -- and maybe that's some of what the DA offices will find here.

But there also were instances where work was paid for and never done, and others where too much money was spent for too little benefit.

On Long Island, municipalities in damaged areas have undertaken projects totaling $247.5 million; and the federal government already has paid out $178.1 million in reimbursements.

Where did all of that money go? Was it well used? Was it wasted? And how did the municipalities determine how to award contracts that for some firms will generate enormously big paydays?

Did political or family ties play a role? Did qualified local companies lose out to connected ones? Were workers shortchanged in pay so that companies could make bigger profits?

It's unlikely that two DA offices would impanel two separate grand juries if prosecutors didn't at least think they smelled smoke. It's to be determined whether they, in fact, find fire.

But they're to be commended for an aggressive start that they should, if necessary, see to an aggressive finish.

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