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Singas seeks federal probe of mailings by Nassau lawmakers

Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas speaks

Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas speaks at the Safe Center in Bethpage, Oct. 8, 2015. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Nassau district attorney's office Tuesday asked federal prosecutors to investigate taxpayer-funded mailings that claimed county legislators have held the line on property taxes, despite an increase this year.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat, made the request in a letter to the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District. She asked the federal prosecutors to decide by Nov. 9 whether they will probe allegations that the postcards -- mailed this month by some Republican lawmakers -- were political in nature and spread false information.

If the U.S. attorney's office declines to pursue the case, Singas will "evaluate appropriate options for state-level investigations," her spokesman, Shams Tarek, said Tuesday. Tarek said the deadline was set "to avoid any perceived conflict" related to the Nov. 3 election, when Singas and 19 county legislative seats will be on the ballot.

Tarek said federal law may be best suited to address the "reported falsity of the statements mailed here." He added: "State and local lawmakers have refused to take action to close a gaping hole in the [local] law that makes it very difficult to bring criminal charges for these abuses."

Newsday reported last week that at least three GOP legislators had sent postcards headlined, "Holding the Line on Property Taxes!" and claiming a "0%" property tax increase for every year from 2011 through 2015. Small print under the 2015 entry reads: "For households making less than $500K," a reference to a state program that provides rebates to eligible homeowners. Homeowners earning less than $500,000 a year get the rebate whether there is a tax hike or not. Businesses aren't eligible.

The county share of property taxes increased by 3.4 percent this year. County legislators initially removed the tax increase from the 2015 budget, but when Republican County Executive Edward Mangano vetoed the removal, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to call a meeting to override the veto.

In response to Singas' call for an investigation, Gonsalves alluded to Singas' race against Republican Kate Murray, the Hempstead town supervisor, for Nassau district attorney. "The acting district attorney's office has on two separate occasions verified the legality of our mailing program and she is simply not free to make up the rules as she goes along to further her own political aspirations," Gonsalves said.

Murray's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Also Tuesday, Singas' office sent a letter to County Attorney Carnell Foskey, requesting that he preserve all records relating to the mailings, pending any local or federal investigation. Public corruption bureau chief Bernadette Ford wrote that the office, "has reasonable cause to believe that this document was political in nature and was mailed at taxpayer expense."

Singas has urged county lawmakers to consider restricting the types of mailers that can be sent at taxpayer expense, and their timing.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who has proposed a bill restricting the mailings, criticized the GOP majority for declining to act on Singas' calls.


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