A former Oceanside sanitation worker, acting on behalf of residents, has sued the district and two former supervisors, seeking to recoup $800,000 of taxpayer dollars in what the state deemed were illegal retirement payments.
Joseph Samoles, who retired in April from Oceanside Sanitary District No. 7, filed the lawsuit against the district, former district supervisors Mike and Charles Scarlata, and three board members, Joseph Cibellis, Florence Mensch and Thomas Lanning.
He also sued the board's former attorney, Jack Libert, who was elected this week as Nassau County Supreme Court judge, and the Uniondale-based Forchelli law firm to which Libert belonged.
The sanitation district's new counsel, Jared Kasschau of the Uniondale-based Harris Beach firm, said during last night's board meeting that the district would not comment on the lawsuit. Mike Scarlata, who sat in the front row of the meeting, did not answer questions.
The state comptroller's office urged the sanitary district board in December to collect the retirement benefits and pensions from the Scarlatas, who were each paid a total of about $400,000 from 1998 to 2013.
Each defendant was served with the lawsuit Wednesday and has 20 days to respond before a date is set in Nassau County Supreme Court, said Samoles' attorney, Austin Graff, of The Scher Law Firm in Carle Place.
"There's a big mismanagement of funds and personnel," Samoles said, while announcing the lawsuit at his attorney's office. "Garbage supervisors are not supposed to be millionaires."
Sanitation commissioners have twice voted against hiring an outside special counsel to explore the clawbacks of the payments. The board voted 3-2 Thursday to have Kasschau examine the comptroller's audit.
Officials from the state comptroller's office said it is incumbent upon the board to recoup the funds, but the comptroller's office is not conducting a follow-up investigation. The comptroller holds the right to follow up to determine if recommendations have been implemented.
The board suspended Mike Scarlata, 82, from his position as a paid consultant in July, after the June election of a new board, but he still collects an annual $62,000 salary, plus benefits, under a four-year contract.
Samoles and Graff said that Libert and the Scarlatas colluded with a majority of board members, trading construction, business and political contracts in exchange for supporting Mike Scarlata, who is president of the Oceanside Republican Club.
"Our argument is they're in cahoots and conspired together to avoid stopping payments [to the Scarlatas] for their own personal gain," Graff said.
Libert said last month that he is a friend of Mike Scarlata. He had advised the board on its elections since June 2014 and was hired as its district counsel in December, shortly before the comptroller's report was released.
The Scarlatas and Libert have been real estate partners since 2007.
Libert said he sold his interests in the real estate partnership upon serving as district counsel and that he saw no conflict of interest in serving in that post.
"I don't see how Mr. Scarlata serving as a consultant is a problem. This was not a secret. It was a public contract," Libert said. "With the fact that we've been social friends for several years, I don't see that relationship as a factor for an outside contractor."