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Andrew Hardwick controversy at center of Thomas Dale ouster

The ousting of Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale was precipitated by events during the controversial county executive campaign of Andrew Hardwick, which ended with the former Freeport mayor kicked off the ballot by a State Supreme Court judge.

Hardwick collected 8,411 signatures to run on the third party We Count line in November's county executive election.

But Nassau Democrats criticized his campaign, which they believed was orchestrated to take votes away from their candidate, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

Justice F. Dana Winslow ruled in October that Hardwick could not get on the ballot because his nominating petitions were "permeated with fraudulent practices."

Roosevelt resident Randy White had testified that Hardwick paid him $1.25 for each signature he got on petitions for Hardwick to get on the ballot -- an unlawful practice that Hardwick denied. Thursday, Dale resigned after prosecutors found that he personally directed his officers to board a county bus in October and arrest White.

One of Hardwick's top supporters, Gary Melius -- owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington and a player in Nassau County's Independence Party -- had been the one who first approached Dale, saying the Hardwick campaign wanted to pursue a perjury claim against White.

"He was called by someone he knew, me, that there was something going on that was time sensitive and he should look into it," Melius said.

Melius donated more than $23,000 to Hardwick's campaign. One of his employees, Oheka catering manager Rick Bellando, is also executive director of the Nassau Independence Party, which endorsed Republican County Executive Edward Mangano. Melius also is developing a condominium project in Suffolk County that would tap into the Nassau sewer system.

Hardwick was Freeport mayor from 2009 to 2013, before losing to a former running mate, Robert T. Kennedy, in a March election.

Hardwick needed 1,500 valid signatures to get on the county executive ballot, and Democrats challenged his nominating petitions, saying they contained fraudulent signatures.

The county Board of Elections declared more than 2,700 signatures invalid. Democrats also alleged that more than 2,100 signatures were forgeries. Judge Winslow said he verified more than 100 cases of forgeries before he called off a line-by-line review.

Democrats contended that Hardwick wanted to help Mangano win a second term by drawing minority votes away from Suozzi. But Hardwick said at the time that he would work for the minority voters whom he said Suozzi neglected as county executive from 2002 to 2009.

Attempts to reach Hardwick were not successful.

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