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Judge rules to prevent GOP takeover of OTB

Democrats in charge of Nassau's Off-Track Betting Corp. Thursday won a temporary restraining order preventing Republicans from taking control of the agency and appointing Joseph Cairo as its president.

Schenectady Supreme Court Justice Vincent J. Reilly, a Republican, ruled that a new Republican-appointed board of directors could not take over Nassau's OTB until the state Racing and Wagering Board "finds them to be qualified" and approves them as required by law.

He set another hearing for March 25.

Because the Schenectady-based state racing board can take a month to run background checks, the order means Nassau's new three-member OTB board likely will not be in place until the end of this month at the earliest, said Republican attorney John Ryan.

It also means that Cairo, a longtime GOP operative with a disbarment on his record, will not be approved by the state for the $198,000-a-year president's job until at least the end of April, Ryan said.

Meanwhile, a member of Nassau's Democratic legislative minority said he will ask presiding officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) for a hearing into the OTB controversy and the role played by Schmitt's counsel, Christopher Ostuni, who acted as the board's "provisional" lawyer.

"We're very concerned that this transition doesn't seem to have followed the rules and procedures of the state Racing and Wagering Board," said Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn). "OTB is a source of significant revenue to the county."

A Schmitt spokesman said he had not received Wink's request and could not comment until he did.

Nassau's OTB, which turned over $5.3 million to the county last year, has long been a source of patronage for the controlling political party.

After Republicans won a majority on the county legislature, they appointed three new OTB directors.

They announced on Tuesday they were replacing OTB's Democratic president, Dino Amoroso, with Cairo, the GOP's North Valley Stream leader who was disbarred in 1994 for diverting client funds to his own use and reinstated to the bar in 2007.

Manhattan attorney Leonard Steinman, representing Nassau OTB Democrats, asked for the injunction to stop the Republican takeover.

"The only thing we're arguing," he said, "is that they are trying to grab power and are trying to trash the statutory scheme that has been in place for decades."

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