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Audit: Poor record-keeping at parks group

The nonprofit group that helps Nassau run the Long Island Marathon collected and spent more than $1.5 million from 2010 through 2011 even though its board of directors has not met since 2009, according to a county comptroller's audit.

In addition, the Friends of Nassau County Recreation's nonprofit tax status has lapsed and its records are so poor that auditors for Comptroller George Maragos said they could not reconcile the number of runners paying entrance fees for the marathon with the revenues collected.

The audit also said the county agreement that allows Friends to use county facilities and employees expired last May.

Maragos spokesman Jostyn Hernandez said auditors could not determine if money was missing because documentation was virtually nonexistent for the marathon and other recreational events supported by the Friends.

"For example, the parks' accountant will receive an envelope marked 'hockey' without any information on how many teams registered or who collected the money," the audit says. Hernandez added that auditors did not attempt to further cross-check fees with parks department enrollment records.

Although the Friends' bylaws call for at least three directors, there is only one -- the unpaid president. A county employee has assumed the role of treasurer but has never been elected to the job by the board, the audit said.

"It's a sham," said Bruce Piel, longtime head of a parks advocacy group. "Because there is no council, there is no organization. It is just a slush fund for the Nassau County park system. They don't have to account for the funds. All money should go to the county. There should be no intermediary, such as that organization, getting the money."

Friends president Tom Hesson could not be reached.

Parks Commissioner Carnell Foskey said he has asked Hesson "to strengthen internal controls." He also wrote Maragos that the parks department will file the records needed to re-establish the Friends' federal nonprofit status.

The Friends group was created in 1980 to support county recreation activities. The county in 2009 signed an agreement with the group to provide administrative support for the Long Island Marathon. The agreement, which expired in May 2012, allowed Friends to work out of the county administration building in Eisenhower Park and to use county employees.

Auditors describe money collected by Friends as "donations" but Nassau's website shows that virtually every county recreational activity -- from shooting matches at the county pistol range to hockey leagues and summer camp -- requires a payment to the Friends of Nassau County Recreation before residents can use taxpayer facilities.

For instance, spring baseball requires a league check of $800 to Friends of Nassau County Recreation; lacrosse fall league stipulated each league pay $310 to Friends of Nassau County; summer recreational program, a $50 registration fee per person to Friends; and youth soccer clinic, $120 per person to Friends of Nassau County.Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) complained that "Rather than a source of donations to our parks, this is a private fund whose revenue and expenditures are inappropriately secretive, that is taking money that should go directly to county coffers. When it's a required payment to use a county facility, it's not a donation."

Foskey responded, "I find it amusing that Legislator Denenberg has never passed over an opportunity for a grip-and-grin photograph at county events supported by this nonprofit organization."

The comptroller reviewed Friends' revenue in 2010 and 2011 for such programs as hockey, lacrosse, the car show and the marathon, but provided only categories for expenses, such as some $250,000 spent on "outside services," and about $300,000 for "giveaways to participants."

When asked for more specifics, Maragos' office responded, "Friends of Recreation pays for the costs of concerts, the costs of the marathon, reimbursement to the county for employees that assist the marathon, sports equipment for leagues such as hockey, swimming, sports awards, for the outside CPA review, and for other recreational costs."

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