The Nassau Interim Finance Authority was used both as a carrot and a stick as State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son pressed for action on a county contract that lies at the center of a federal corruption probe, according to an FBI complaint.
Here's NIFA as carrot -- for use during an investors call in the summer of 2013:
Before that call, according to the federal complaint, Skelos and his son, Adam, asked Nassau officials to find out whether NIFA's board would approve a contract worth up to $12 million with AbTech Industries, a firm that makes storm-water pollution filters.
The firm, which is not accused of wrongdoing, had hired the younger Skelos as a consultant -- which made him the primary go-between for county and company officials as the contract wended its way through Nassau's system.
On Aug. 12, 2013, a company official asked Adam Skelos to obtain a letter from Nassau on the status of the contract, which, at that time, was awaiting NIFA approval. The company wanted an update, according to the complaint, to use during an investors call the next day.
The company official's request for the letter was passed from Adam Skelos to Dean Skelos' director of district operations, the complaint said.
About four hours later, NIFA's general counsel, in an email to Nassau's chief deputy county executive, who is Robert Walker, relayed NIFA's answer. "As requested, I have taken my board's temperature regarding this contract," NIFA's general counsel wrote, adding there seemed to be "no major concerns."
"Please note that this accommodation was made because of your representation that time was of the essence," the email said. "In the future, we will continue our analysis in the normal course, pursuant to . . . our procedures."
The counsel's email, according to the complaint, was then forwarded to company officials. Was that favoritism? No, a Nassau official said Thursday, adding that it is not unusual for Nassau and NIFA to speak about contracts.
The authority appears in the complaint a second time, when, in December 2014, Adam Skelos attempted to use NIFA as a stick -- at a time when Skelos, father and son, pushed Nassau to find money to fund the contract, and to pay the contractor.
Here's one conversation federal agents intercepted between Adam Skelos and a company official:
Skelos: "Nassau County, man. Burning bridges left and right. I tell you this, the state is not going to do a [expletive] thing for the county. Any favor that [County Executive Edward Mangano] calls and asks for, it's not happening."
Company official: "What's not happening?"
Skelos: "Like [Mangano] will call and ask for favors to help with NIFA, or to help with the labor unions and negotiating contracts or this and that, and it's just not going to happen after they haven't helped us with what we need."
Did NIFA know that Dean Skelos and his son, who have denied the corruption allegation, had ties to the contract? Jon Kaiman, NIFA's chairman, declined to comment. The authority released a statement late Friday addressing only the agency's contract review process: " . . . Those guidelines are applied to hundreds of contracts in a given calendar year. NIFA doesn't allow deviation from those guidelines and communicates such to the county accordingly."
The board during a meeting Friday agreed to make things more transparent -- dovetailing Mangano's plan to bypass legislators with an executive order requiring disclosure of lobbying efforts on each county contract.
"I believe that we should add specific questions and steps to our own approval process to either support or, if necessary, strengthen those efforts," Chris Wright said during the meeting -- NIFA's first since federal prosecutors lodged corruption-related charges against father and son.