NIFA probes $60,000 payment to Albany lobbyist

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Nassau's financial control board has directed its counsel to determine whether it was proper for the former county attorney to approve a $60,000 payment to an Albany lobbyist whose contract was rejected by the board.

Jeremy Wise, counsel to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, told board members at a public meeting Monday that former County Attorney John Ciampoli settled a claim from Albany lobbyist Robert J. Bishop "without our knowledge."

NIFA twice rejected contracts to pay Bishop and another lobbyist $60,000 each.

In August, NIFA refused to approve contracts Ciampoli sent the control board after the lobbyists had completed their work. In June, NIFA denied new contracts, saying the financially distressed county should not be spending thousands of dollars to lobby Nassau's own state representatives.

Ciampoli sued NIFA for rejecting the contracts but lost in court. He had moved to appeal before County Executive Edward Mangano earlier this month replaced him as county attorney, installing former Family Court Judge Carnell Foskey in his place. County officials said Tuesday they are not pursuing the appeal.

Deputy County Executive Ed Ward Tuesday provided Newsday with a copy of the notice of claim that Bishop filed with the county in March, requesting $60,000 for representing Nassau before the State Legislature in 2012. Ward also included a settlement agreement approved by Ciampoli to pay Bishop and a copy of the $60,000 check, dated May 5.

Ward said Mangano did not know that Ciampoli had paid the claim. He noted that the county attorney is allowed to approve settlements under $100,000.

NIFA chairman John Kaiman directed Wise to explore the legal questions. "There's a new administration in the county attorney's office so it might be moot, but we do want to find out what's right, what's wrong and what's allowed," Kaiman said.

NIFA member George Marlin noted that any vendor who begins work without an approved contract is acting at their own risk.

But Ciampoli said Tuesday, "When somebody files a good notice of claim it is the practice of the county attorney's office to attempt to settle it before it goes to litigation and starts costing more money."

He said the settlement was not an attempt to go around NIFA. "It was an attempt to run things as they're ordinarily run. It's also an attempt to see to it that people who provide services to the county executive and the county are paid for their work," said Ciampoli.

Marlin said Tuesday that he found the settlement "appalling."

"When a contract is rejected, any work that was done was speculative and they don't get paid for it. How do you settle with somebody for a contract that wasn't executed? It's absurd on the face of it."

Bishop could not be reached Tuesday.

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