Nassau awards $20.7M contract to build new county crime lab to Syosset company

The Nassau Public Safety Center on Thursday, June

The Nassau Public Safety Center on Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New Cassel. County officials have awarded a $20.7 million construction contract for a new forensic lab to E & A Restoration of Syosset. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Nassau officials have awarded a $20.7 million contract to build a new county crime lab to a Syosset company -- turning a corner on the debacle that led to the 2011 closure of the old police forensic facility after faulty evidence testing there threatened the outcome of criminal cases.

E & A Restoration of Syosset, which submitted the lowest bid, won the contract.

The new facility will replace the old police lab that County Executive Edward Mangano and District Attorney Kathleen Rice closed after a national accrediting agency found instances of slipshod work and botched evidence testing there.

E & A will build the new lab in empty space -- between 52,000 and 54,000 square feet -- on two floors of the existing county public safety center in New Cassel.

Since 2010, Antonios Vournou, an executive project manager and contract manager at E & A Restoration, and a related business, A. Vournou Construction Management Group, also of Syosset, have contributed almost $50,000 to a campaign organization for Mangano, state campaign finance records show.

Detailed information about E & A was not available because the county Public Works Department refused to release documents relating to the crime lab contract. Newsday has filed a Freedom of Information request for the documents.

Bids came in under the $34 million to $37 million anticipated by the Public Works Department.

Work on the new lab will begin this fall and completion is expected in 2016.

AN ISSUE OF TRUST

Michael Balboni, a former state senator and assemblyman, heads a board Mangano appointed to oversee the lab's migration to the new facility.

Balboni said the campaign contributions to Mangano did not influence the contract award to E & A.

"The bids were sealed -- there's no way a contribution would matter," Balboni said.

Balboni said the contract passed through the Nassau Legislature, the comptroller, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority and Mangano's office.

E & A's website indicates it has worked on various county projects -- including previous work at the public safety center, police headquarters, the correctional center and renovation of the Bay Park sewage treatment maintenance building.

Since 2010, Antonios Vournou has contributed $42,150 to Friends of Ed Mangano, according to campaign finance records. A. Vournou Construction Management Group has contributed $6,000 to Friends of Ed Mangano.

County contract documents describe Vournou as president and chief executive of A. Vournou Construction Management Group.

Vournou did not return calls for comment.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said that in general, "There's a tidal wave of people who are politically connected and don't hesitate to use their connections. You've got to be sure you're not further undermining public confidence."

The other bidders were Fratello Construction Corp of Farmingdale and Stalco Construction Inc. of Islandia. Campaign finance records showed no contributions from Fratello and Stalco to Mangano.

SHODDY EVIDENCE HANDLING

In 2010, ASCLD/LAB, a North Carolina accrediting agency, placed the lab on probation, citing shoddy evidence handling.

After the lab was closed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011 asked then-Inspector General Ellen Biben to investigate the lab.

In a scathing November 2011 report, Biben found the lab suffered from "a dysfunctional quality management system, analysts with inconsistent training and qualifications, and outdated and incomplete testing procedures."

By that time, the county had transferred the lab to the auspices of the medical examiner's office.

Officials sent old drug evidence in thousands of cases to NMS labs in Pennsylvania to be analyzed in case botched evidence testing had affected the outcome of criminal cases.

In April 2012, for example, a Nassau judge threw out a Queens man's cocaine conviction after his attorneys pointed to the lab's problems.

Nassau has paid NMS about $3.2 million to retest old evidence and to test new evidence that could not be processed by the medical examiner's office and had to be outsourced.

Balboni said some of the money spent on outsourcing would have been spent processing evidence at the old lab.

The retesting ended in 2013. Balboni said no one would be released from jail as a result of it.

The new lab will still fall under the auspices of the medical examiner.

Balboni said the contract award was a step "in the right direction and enabled the county to move forward."

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