Hempstead homeless shelter seeks reimbursement from Nassau
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Three years after housing and feeding about 200 homeless residents during the harsh winter of 2010-11, a Hempstead homeless shelter operator is trying to get Nassau County to pay nearly $210,000 for services he provided under the county's "Warmbed" program.
Shelter operator Daniel Lanzillotti's legal battle to recover the money continues even as Nassau recently reactivated the program, which is aimed at providing emergency nightly shelter for homeless residents during winter.
Lanzillotti, an East Hills businessman who runs the nonprofit Carlo's Legacy shelter, said he laid out $208,550 to house and feed the residents from December 2010 to April 2011, and has fought for reimbursement for the past three years from the county's Office of Housing and Community Development. He filed a lawsuit last December that is still awaiting a response from the county.
"We kept daily records, we did everything we were told," Lanzillotti said. "At no time during the winter of 2011 did Nassau Housing stop sending us homeless people to shelter because our contract was unsigned."
County officials concede that they sent clients to Carlo's Legacy, but say they have not paid Lanzillotti because a contract was never executed.
Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, declined to comment, saying the case is in litigation.
Nevin provided a Dec. 11, 2012, letter by Deputy County Executive Charles Theofan to Lanzillotti's attorney, Theodore W. Robinson of Hempstead, explaining that "without an executed contract, and without the approval of the Legislature, and possibly NIFA [the county's financial control board], there is no way that a claim of this magnitude can be paid."
Lanzillotti provided copies of email exchanges with housing officials in 2010 in which he asked for a signed contract before providing services for Warmbed, which assigns homeless residents nightly shelter when they call a county hotline. County housing attorneys responded by saying they would provide a final contract when the program ended in April, once he submitted all invoices."
County housing attorney Oriana Mazza sent Lanzillotti an email on Dec. 8, 2010, saying Connie Lassandro, county housing director at the time, had authorized payment of $50 a night per resident up to $24,000. Mazza said officials would decide whether to authorize further payments once that threshold was met.
Mangano replaced Lassandro, an appointee of former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat, in April 2011 with current director John Sarcone. Sarcone referred questions about the case to Nevin.
Lanzillotti argues that Nassau routinely allowed vendors to proceed with work before contracts were approved by the legislature.
He noted a March 2013 audit of Nassau's contracting process by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that criticized the county's practice of allowing vendors to begin work before their contracts were approved by the legislature and county comptroller.
DiNapoli's report notes that "historically, vendors started work or provided goods and service before contracts were approved, and the County would eventually pay its obligation upon final contract approval."
Nevin declined to comment on whether the contracting process has been amended since DiNapoli's report.
Lanzillotti, who no longer participates in Warmbed but runs a food pantry in Hempstead that feeds about 450 low-income residents a month, said without the payment he may have to scale back his pantry operation.
"I work 16-hour days and put my own money out there, but I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it up," Lanzillotti said.