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Audit: Poor financial controls at Nassau jail

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos at his Massapequa

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos at his Massapequa office on March 19, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The commissary at the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow has poor financial controls and lax cash management, leading to thousands of dollars in unnecessary inmate expenses, according to an audit released Friday by Comptroller George Maragos.

The report, which tracks spending and operations at the commissary in 2010 and 2011, also found that jail employees bypassed the county Purchasing Department when buying items in bulk from vendors.

Maragos found the jail did not always select the lowest available price for items such as granola bars and failed to maintain written contracts with vendors, often operating with "verbal commitments."

"The numerous management issues found at the commissary are extremely troublesome and need immediate attention," Maragos said. "To the extent that these issues may imply greater concern with the jail administration will be looked into."

The commissary, which sells snack items, hygiene products and writing materials, is a roughly $1.3 million annual operation, the audit found.

Deputy Sheriff Capt. Keith Sather disputed many of Maragos' findings. He argued, for example, that the commissary has made its own purchases for 20 years and that funds used to stock it are not public and therefore not subject to county procurement regulations.

Sheriff Michael Sposato, who has run the correctional center since 2008, said he would review Maragos' findings and recommendations.

The New York State Commission of Correction regulations stipulate that profits from commissary sales must be used exclusively for inmate "welfare and rehabilitation."

But the audit found the commissary spent nearly $13,000 on items that did not fit this criteria, including stackable beds, garment bags and blankets used to prevent inmate suicide.

Sather said all three were valid purchases.

Maragos also found that the jail overspent by more than $122,000 on salaries for commissary employees, forcing the county's general fund to pick up the difference. Commissary employees, the audit found, also did not record overtime as required.

Sather disputed the comptroller's calculations, noting that not all of the salaries in question are funded through commissary profits. Some of those costs, he said, remain in the department's budget.

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