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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau comptroller George Maragos makes surprising move

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is seen on

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, in a feisty move, has stopped paying Armor Correctional Health Care Services until the county sheriff can produce proof positive that the vendor handling jail health care services is fulfilling its contract.

The move is surprising not because Maragos lacks the authority to hold tight to taxpayer money, but because it’s unusual to have one Nassau Republican so broadly, and so publicly, blindside another — in this case, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Is Maragos running for something?

We’ll get to that later.

First, let’s see what Maragos’ maneuver — which comes on the heels of a civil suit filed by State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman alleging that Armor provided substandard care and submitted false vouchers — has wrought:

To Mangano, the move means little. In an interview, Mangano said he expected Armor to continue providing health care, under the watchful eye of a monitor that Nassau says it is willing to work with the attorney general’s office to hire.

And yes, Mangano said in the interview, he expects Armor to keep doing the job even if the company is not being paid. “We have a contract,” he said, “and we expect that to be honored.”

Meanwhile, Maragos’ office — which is withholding the vendor’s July 1 to July 31 payment — is standing firm.

Armor will get nothing, Maragos said in an interview, until Michael J. Sposato, Nassau’s acting sheriff since 2008, hands over quality-of-care statistics to support payment-request invoices.

“I would hope they recognize there is a real issue here and that they have to deal with it,” Maragos said of the Mangano administration.

As of Friday, Mangano — who was not consulted before Maragos stopped the July payment — had not reached out to the comptroller.

Neither had the sheriff.

None of the officials had reached out to Armor.

And, spokesmen for the officials said, Armor — which has said it would fight the allegations in the attorney general’s federal lawsuit — had not reached out to them.

Is it a stalemate?

Jerry Laricchiuta, head of Nassau’s Civil Service Employees Association, whose members at Nassau University Medical Center once handled inmate care, said it shouldn’t be.

“The county ought to be talking to NUMC now,” Laricchiuta said. “With everything going on, I think the county and the hospital should be talking.”

Or maybe not.

“The county has not reached out to NUMC as we have no interest in assuming the role of health care provider for the correctional center,” Shelley Lotenberg, spokeswoman for NUMC, said Friday.

That’s not much of a surprise given that the county, in 2009, wanted to move away from having NUMC — which had come under criticism for its handling of inmate care — because the county deemed the expense of care, and correction officer overtime from moving inmates to and from the facility, too high.

Still, how long can Nassau — which is soliciting requests for proposals to handle inmate medical care — expect Armor to work should the comptroller continue withholding payments?

And why did Maragos wait so long to take his stand, when the comptroller’s office has approved invoices for Armor dating to 2011? In February, a report from the independent Office of Legislative Review noted “inaccuracies and inconsistencies” in information provided about health care at the jail.

The attorney general’s lawsuit was the catalyst. “When the AG is alleging inadequate care, you have to move,” Maragos said.

But what about the politics of it?

Is Maragos deliberately stirring up trouble for the Mangano administration, which has been slammed for not canceling Armor’s contract in the wake of 12 inmate deaths since the firm started managing jail health care?

Could Maragos be laying the groundwork to run for Mangano’s job?

No, Maragos said. Given the allegations in the attorney general’s lawsuit, “Isn’t this what I am supposed to do?”

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