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Nassau DA reviewing IDA termination payments

Nassau DA Madeline Singas, seen here on May

Nassau DA Madeline Singas, seen here on May 10, 2018, is reviewing termination payments made to five employees of the county's IDA while all were still employed there in early 2018. Credit: Charles Eckert

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas is reviewing $350,000 in termination payments made to five employees of the county’s Industrial Development Agency while all were still employed there in early 2018, according to the district attorney’s office.

“While we have received no complaints, we are aware of these reports, and we will review this matter with the Nassau County inspector general and investigate if warranted,” Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said Thursday.

The payments for unused sick days and vacation were made on Jan. 4, 2018, three days after Democrat Laura Curran was sworn in as county executive, succeeding Republican Edward Mangano. The payments were not voted on by the IDA board at the time, though the chairman, Timothy Williams, said he signed off on them.

The current IDA board chairman Richard Kessel and current executive director Harry Coghlan were notified late last month of the payments by the agency’s accounting firm during a routine audit of 2018 financial records. Kessel disclosed the payments at the IDA's monthly public board meeting last week.

"I welcome any review by the DA," Kessel said in an interview on Friday. "This did not happen under our watch. It happened under the prior administration at the IDA … and we took corrective action to make sure it never happens again."

The payments exceeded $350,000 and were made using IDA fee income, not taxpayer dollars.

IDA records detail the amount each IDA employee received in termination pay and were used in the agency’s 2018 annual report filed with the state Authorities Budget Office, which regulates IDAs.

Then-executive director Joseph J. Kearney received the largest payment, $138,842, or nearly 40 percent of the total, according to a copy of the report obtained by Newsday.

Other staff members and their payments are: administrative director Colleen Pereira, $73,324; chief financial officer Joseph Foarile, $66,123; business development director Nicholas Terzulli, $60,923, and secretary Cecelia J. Muscarella, $12,898.

Pereira and Foarile still work for the IDA. Both declined to comment on Friday.

Terzulli joined a law firm in March 2018 and represents IDA clients. He declined to comment, and Muscarella couldn’t be reached.

Kearney, who left the IDA in January to become deputy Republican elections commissioner at the county Board of Elections, said his payment covered eight years of his IDA tenure. He declined to comment further.

Last week, Kearney defended the termination payments, saying they were “done properly, ethically” and because there was a change in the political party that held the county executive’s office. 

Kearney also said last week that IDA employees received payments in 2010 after Mangano took over as county executive from Democrat Thomas Suozzi.

The 2010 payments totaled less than $100,000, said two sources with knowledge of the payments who requested anonymity because they feared damage to their careers.

The office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who also regulates IDAs, "hasn't received anything officially as of today, but if anything were to come in, we would review the matter and move forward from there," spokesman Brian Butry said on Friday. "This is an issue that we have examined with other local government entities previously." 

Last week, the new seven-member IDA board voted unanimously to prohibit future termination payments for IDA employees who remain with the agency and to require that the payments receive board approval.

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