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George Maragos moves raise eyebrows

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos speaks to the

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos speaks to the Budget Review committee at the Nassau County Legislature on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 in Mineola. by Howard Schnapp Credit: Howard Schnapp

Looks like George Maragos, Nassau’s comptroller, could be putting distance between himself and County Executive Edward Mangano.

Could it be, perhaps, that Maragos is contemplating a run for Mangano’s job — even as the county executive appears to be laying groundwork for a third-term run too? Maragos was mum on the prospect during an interview Monday.

“I don’t respond to rumors,” Maragos said. However, he added, “I am looking at opportunities both inside and outside of government.”

Is that because of reports that the Nassau Republican Party might not nominate Maragos for comptroller again? “If that’s so, nobody’s told me,” Maragos said.

Maragos has raised the ire of some officials, elected and otherwise, with recent audits critical of county government.

In April, for example, his office released an audit reporting that the police department exceeded its overtime budget by $96 million over a six-year period ending in 2014. That prompted Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter to call the audit a “total failure” and a “personal attack” on the police department.

Maragos also has released audits on county finances that make clear that Nassau continues to have budget deficits. In prior years, when he appeared to be toeing the Republican Party line, Maragos had released audits that praised Nassau’s borrowing-fueled surpluses.

Last week, sources told Newsday’s Celeste Hadrick that Maragos, a Republican, had hired Democrat Michael Scotto, a former federal prosecutor who made an unsuccessful primary run against District Attorney Madeline Singas last year, as a deputy.

When asked whether Scotto was on the payroll, a boilerplate request that, at best, would have required a quick computer check, Maragos’ office instead told Hadrick to file a Freedom of Information Request — which, too often in local government, is used as a stalling tactic.

What was up with that?

Maragos, in the interview, confirmed the Scotto hire. But, Maragos said, he did not want to make a public announcement until Scotto — who starts Wednesday — joins his staff. As a deputy comptroller, Scotto will run the office’s auditing unit, which will take on an expanded role, Maragos said.

“We have been getting complaints about things going on, and we have been reading about allegations in Newsday,” Maragos said. “There may be instances where we want to do some digging around.”

What digging? Maragos volunteered no specifics. Asked whether information gleaned by the Comptroller’s office would be turned over to prosecutors, Maragos said, “All of our audits go to the district attorney’s office.”

Last week, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging that Armor Correctional Health Services failed repeatedly to give jail inmates adequate care, and that the company defrauded Nassau taxpayers who funded the deficient services. The company denies the allegations.

Was Maragos aware of what was going on?

He said the Comptroller’s office had received complaints about medical care. “We decided to step back when the attorney general and the [Nassau] DA began looking into the matter,” he said.

And, finally, why did Maragos’, who is supposed to be the county’s fiscal watchdog, send out 50,000 pamphlets — at county expense — with a listing of free concerts throughout Nassau? “A lot of people don’t know who we are or what we do,” Maragos said. He noted that the pamphlet “encourages residents to report fraud and abuse.”

Either way, with the hiring, the expanded audit department, and the pamphlets, Maragos is raising the profile of his office — and by extension, himself.

Which could come in handy, say, for a political campaign.

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