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Hempstead rejects $85G settlement with contractor linked to Joe Cairo

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen during the

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen during the town board meeting on Tuesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday unanimously rejected an $85,000 legal settlement with the former operator of the town-owned Lido Beach Golf Course.

The 6-0 vote followed a Newsday report Monday on court records indicating that the contractor, Double Eagle Golf, had paid a company controlled by Nassau County GOP chairman Joseph Cairo $922,800 from 1999 to 2014 for work related to the course.

Cairo was not the chairman at the time. He ascended to that post in May 2018 after serving more than a decade as vice chairman.

The Republican-controlled board joined Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat, in blocking the settlement.

Gillen cited Cairo's financial ties to Double Eagle as a reason for opposing the settlement. After the meeting, she said it was "crazy to see a company that had no experience running a golf course hired at the request of the party chairman."

Joshua Hecht, an attorney for Double Eagle, said: "For political expedience, the town backpedaled on an agreement that it had already signed on to with all of the facts before it."

Double Eagle operated the course from 1997 to 2017, when its contract expired and the town retook control of the facility. 

The company sued Hempstead in May 2017, arguing in part that the town owed it $776,400 for capital improvements it carried out following superstorm Sandy in 2012. The town countersued, saying the company was contractually obligated to cover such costs, but the company had let the facility deteriorate.

The two sides reached the settlement in court in April, but the town board had not approved the deal.

The four Republican councilmen declined to comment on their votes after the meeting, citing the pending litigation. Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gillen cited the payments from Double Eagle to the McCormick Group, whose chief executive is Cairo, in an Oct. 25 affidavit filed in the case. She said his ties to the company were similar to his connections to Dover Gourmet Corp., another Hempstead Town contractor that paid Cairo for work related to a town-owned facility, Malibu Beach Park. The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed the town over the summer for records on Dover.

“Like the Malibu vendor situation, it seems that the Nassau County Republican Chairman is receiving payouts from vendors for whom he helped secure contracts,” Gillen said in the affidavit.

Cairo, a former Hempstead councilman, has said he consulted Double Eagle on “business decisions and transactions.”

“Nothing unethical was done,” he told Newsday previously. “I represented them at a time when I had no relationship with the town.”

Cairo has said Gillen’s affidavit was "purely political," noting it was filed less than two weeks before she sought reelection on Nov. 5. It was “a last-minute attempt to muddy the waters," he has said.

Gillen narrowly lost her reelection bid last week to Republican challenger Don Clavin, the town's receiver of taxes, according to unofficial results. Clavin has declared victory, but Gillen has not conceded, with absentee ballots still to be counted.

Also on Tuesday, the board:

  • Authorized retroactive 2018 budget transfers that included moving $5.95 million to cover salaries and wages in various departments. Gillen said the transfers were necessary due to previously unbudgeted salaries and separation pay.
  • Voted 5-1, with Gillen objecting, to table scheduling a public hearing on a proposal to prohibit political party leaders from holding high-ranking positions in the town government. Richard Regina, an attorney for the town board, said he recommended the board table or reject the measure, citing concerns about its implications for employees' First Amendment rights.

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