Gerard Terry, an influential political operative and chairman of the North Hempstead Democratic Committee, has for years received government work paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars even as he compiled an income tax debt of $1.4 million and battled lawsuits alleging fraud and failure to pay back loans, a Newsday review of public records shows.
Terry, 61, a private practice lawyer from Roslyn Heights, earned more than $217,000 last year from six government positions controlled by Democratic Party officials or in party enclaves. He made nearly $70,000 total to work as the attorney for the Freeport Community Development Agency, Roosevelt Library Board and Long Beach Housing Authority. Terry was paid another $74,000 as North Hempstead Town’s special counsel and attorney for the board of zoning appeals. And he received $75,000 to work for the Democratic commissioner at the Nassau County Board of Elections.
Despite his six-figure income funded by taxpayer dollars, Terry has since 2000 amassed nearly $1.2 million in federal liens from the Internal Revenue Service and more than $205,000 in state tax warrants. His federal debt increased by nearly $163,000 in October 2015, when the IRS issued a lien for unpaid taxes in 2012 and 2014.
Prominent Nassau Democrats allied with Terry, including North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, former Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, said in interviews they were unaware of the size of Terry’s tax liens.
Bosworth, who said the amount of Terry’s liens left her “surprised,” said she has asked Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin to “undertake a comprehensive review and to advise me on any necessary changes in town policy and procedures that we need to take.”
Bosworth did not indicate whether that review would just involve Terry or a broader look at how the town conducts background checks of its employees and contractors. While Terry represented the town during a January zoning board meeting, his annual contracts have yet to be voted on for 2016 and are pending the town attorney’s review. Town officials did not say when the review would be completed.
“It’s serious,” Bosworth said of Terry’s liens. “Everyone’s obligated to pay their taxes and there are no exceptions.”
Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said Terry’s array of government jobs “raises the question of whether or not the personnel decisions were awarded based on the merits, or on political connections.”
“If they didn’t do any background checks, and only picked him because he’s the party leader, the public should know that,” Horner said.
After Newsday published this story online, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas released a statement Saturday that said Terry’s background “should disqualify any lawyer from government work, and this matter underscores the importance of more robust contractor screening protocols and oversight that I’ve called for at the county level.”
Singas’ spokesman added that prosecutors plan to review financial disclosure statements and “are in contact with state tax authorities.”
Terry on Jan. 22 issued a public statement through his spokesman, Gary Lewi, as Newsday questioned him and several Nassau County government and Democratic Party officials about his tax liens. Terry’s statement blamed the liens on a “Type-A workaholic compulsion with self-denial” and described his goal to address the tax liens in 2016 as a “personal New Year’s resolution.”
Terry, in an interview with Newsday after releasing the statement, also blamed the liens on a “cascading series of serious health issues,” including open heart surgery. He said he is seeking a deal with the IRS to settle his tax debt for less than the full amount and that he plans to work with the state to settle his debt if the federal effort is successful.
“They’re embarrassing, those dollars are embarrassing,” Terry said. “It’s not something I’m proud of.”
A history of troubles
Terry’s statement did not address other financial problems that date back to the early 1990s.
Records show that Terry has been the defendant in at least five lawsuits in Nassau County Supreme Court, one of which led to a judgment for a home foreclosure and sale in 2000. Unsatisfied judgments against Terry total $190,000, mostly for unpaid debt.
The court records show a judge ordered Terry to pay Daniel Reich about $112,000 in 2003 after the man claimed Terry did not pay back an $80,000 loan. Reich declined to comment.
Another judgment from 1998 ordered Terry to pay $72,000 to the family of Daniel Lehner, a Valley Stream newspaper and magazine publisher who died in 1997.
Terry said both those judgments have been satisfied. However, they were not registered as satisfied in the court file as of last week.
In another suit, Terry’s father-in-law in 1997 accused him of “thievery” and “acts of conversion and fraud” when Terry allegedly took more than $365,000 from his financial accounts and diverted it to himself and others.
Terry’s father-in-law could not be reached for comment. Terry said the suit was dropped and settled amicably.
While the earlier lawsuits concerned Terry’s personal dealings, Sidney B. Bowne & Son LLP, a Mineola engineering firm that has had public contracts with North Hempstead Town and Nassau County, filed a lawsuit against Terry, who worked for the firm as a lobbyist, and others in 2007.
Sidney Bowne and one of its partners, Zabdiel Blackman, alleged in the lawsuit that Terry committed “identity fraud” by forging a lease signature for a Lexus the engineering firm had arranged for him.
According to the lawsuit, Bowne provided Terry with a leased Lexus, but Terry later “demanded” a second Lexus. When the firm refused, Terry asked Blackman to co-sign a lease for the second Lexus because Terry couldn’t secure the lease himself due to his bad credit, the lawsuit alleges. The firm and Blackman agreed to the arrangement.
Terry then “orchestrated the alteration of vehicle lease co-signature documents and substituted the name” of another man’s for Terry’s, the lawsuit states. The second man’s “signature was superimposed as to obliterate the signature of Terry” and was then photocopied onto a second lease agreement, making it appear as if Blackman had co-signed for the other man.
Blackman discovered the “cut and paste job” of the signatures after receiving notices that Terry had defaulted on the lease in 2006, the complaint says.
Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic Party chairman, said he intervened and asked Terry to resolve the lawsuit. “It was viewed as a personal dispute, and I had spoken to Gerard and made clear that it should be cleaned up,” Jacobs said in a recent interview.
The court file does not indicate how the lawsuit was ultimately resolved. Terry said the lawsuit was dropped and denied the allegations, calling the situation a “massive misunderstanding.”
Blackman said, “I can’t tell you anything. I don’t want to,” before hanging up the phone.
Kaiman, North Hempstead’s supervisor between 2004 and 2013, said officials from Sidney Bowne never spoke with him about their lawsuit against Terry and that he did not recall ever hearing about the suit. Sidney Bowne received millions of dollars in work from North Hempstead during Kaiman’s tenure, records show.
Kaiman, who announced last Sunday he would leave his state posts as chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority and special adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on storm recovery to run for the congressional seat held by retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), said he was not familiar with the scope of Terry’s financial problems.
“I am aware that we had received some notice at some point relating to a tax lien,” Kaiman said. “I had it addressed by my town attorney’s office and by our H.R. folks, who met with him and dealt with it until they were satisfied we were protected and there was no issue with the town.”
Kaiman, an attorney and former district court judge, said he was also unaware that for three years during his tenure, Terry worked for the town while his attorney registration had lapsed.
The $375 registration filing must be completed every two years for an attorney to receive a Certificate of Good Standing from the state Office of Court Administration. Starting in 2010, Terry failed to register for three consecutive two-year cycles before filing them retroactively in February 2015.
Botwin, North Hempstead’s current town attorney, said she noticed Terry’s lapsed registration after she took office in 2014 and asked Terry to “clean up his registration.”
Kaiman said Terry’s registration lapsed after he was already working for the town, and “that’s probably why we didn’t see it.”
A state courts spokesman said attorneys can face discipline for not keeping their registration current. A New York State Court System website shows Terry’s registration is current and that he has no history of discipline.
Terry said his lapsed registration was “unintended sloppiness” and the result of falling behind on continuing legal education courses, which are requirements for the registration.
Good-government advocates wondered how Terry has been able to secure so much government work given his personal and professional problems.
“I’d want to know why, in a world where there’s so many lawyers, this one got picked,” Horner said.
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a nonpartisan good-government group in Manhattan, said Terry’s background should have disqualified him from government work.
“It’s just unimaginable that a person who has so many liens himself would be given responsibilities for ensuring that Nassau County residents comply with local laws,” Dadey said. “It’s outrageous.”
Decades in politics
Terry’s career as a successful political operative dates back to 1972, when he served as the campaign manager for an 18-year-old classmate, Thomas DiNapoli, who was running for the Mineola School Board. DiNapoli, the current New York State comptroller, won that election when he and Terry were seniors at Mineola High School, becoming the youngest person in state history elected to public office. Terry didn’t cast a ballot — he was only 17.
Terry studied at Queens College and St. John’s Law School, working as a staffer for a Democratic state assemblyman. He later supported DiNapoli’s campaign for county executive in 2001, when he lost to Thomas Suozzi in a Democratic primary.
Terry has for decades been a party fixture with influence over state, county, town and village politics. He is among a handful of county Democrats involved in selecting which judicial candidates will get the party line, and most recently, Terry has been involved with candidates interested in Israel’s congressional seat, according to a town Democratic Party source who requested anonymity.
Terry has been North Hempstead’s party leader since 2007, except for a brief period when Rafe Lieber held the position, Terry said.
Terry’s influence is arguably magnified because he is a top Democrat in Nassau County’s last Democratic stronghold. The town board has a majority of Democrats, in contrast to the Republican-controlled legislatures in the Towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay, and in Nassau County. Terry leads the committee that selects candidates for town office and often personally oversees their campaigns.
Bosworth and Town Clerk Wayne Wink are both former Democratic Nassau County legislators who won town seats with Terry’s support. Bosworth hired another Democratic county legislator, Robert Troiano, to work as her director of operations, and other former Democratic county staffers populate the town’s payroll.
Terry’s wife, Concetta, also works for North Hempstead as the deputy town clerk. Concetta Terry was promoted to that job from the tax receiver’s office in 2014, five months after Bosworth and Wink took office. Concetta Terry’s salary rose by close to $9,000 with the promotion, and in 2015, her annual salary was increased by 3 percent to more than $80,000.
Concetta Terry does not list her husband’s tax liens in her 2014 and 2015 financial disclosure filings, despite a requirement that she “describe all debts of you, your spouse, or your dependent children in excess of $5,000.” Town officials said the omission would be included in Botwin’s review.
Concetta Terry did not return messages seeking comment.
Hailed as a hard worker
Terry’s supporters describe him as a hardworking, “fantastic operative” skilled in the minutiae of local election law and complex zoning laws.
Lee Seeman, a North Hempstead Democratic town councilwoman from Great Neck Estates involved in party politics since 1955, said Terry is known for “getting the people elected, getting out the vote for the people. That’s what counts as a leader.”
When told of Terry’s tax liens, Seeman said she wasn’t aware of them and that she was “going to look at it.” The board’s three other Democratic council members did not respond to calls for comment.
The Village of Port Washington North, led by Mayor Robert Weitzner — who also serves as North Hempstead’s finance and human resources commissioner — paid Terry about $15,000 total in 2011 and 2012 to defend the village against companies appealing their commercial property tax assessments. (Terry has not worked for the village since 2012 but has a contract to provide services on an as-needed basis).
The village, which also employs a separate attorney, hired Terry because “none of us have the time or energy or expertise” to handle the assessment appeals, Weitzner said. “I was grateful he had expertise, and he was able to do it.”
Terry said he has a track record for providing “good services and responsive services,” but understands his government clients may wonder whether his “personal issues” will affect his professional duties.
“People have to decide whether I’m the right fit for them and their legal matters,” Terry said.