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Nassau comptroller asks contractors for Sandy paperwork

One of the downed trees in the Welwyn

One of the downed trees in the Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove that Nassau County contractor Looks Great Services Inc. chopped down. (Dec. 13, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos is asking county contractors hired for superstorm Sandy cleanup for payroll and expense records related to their work, including a firm set to receive nearly $70 million for debris removal.

Maragos mailed the requests to the 12 largest Sandy contractors last week after he and County Executive Edward Mangano's administration said Nassau does not have subcontractor information for Looks Great Services Inc., the Huntington tree-debris-removal contractor receiving the largest total payment from the county.

The county legislature has approved more than $200 million in Sandy-related expenses, including employee overtime and contractor payments. Nassau officials say they hope to receive 90 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Basically, we're going to follow the money," Maragos said. "We want to make sure the money that has been spent has been spent well and we've gotten value and that none of it has been wasted."

Sending a 'strong message'

Maragos said that when his office receives the records, "we will be verifying what they're paying, what work they've done, how much they have received and, in some cases, that they've actually done the work they represented in their claim."

He said he also wants to send a "strong message" that he will be monitoring all Sandy contractors.

The county approved dozens of emergency contracts for Sandy recovery. Other large contractors that Maragos said he has sent letters to include CDM Smith-Liro JV, which is to receive up to $25 million for emergency sheltering; R.J. Industries Inc. of Plainview, which is to be paid $6.75 million for Bay Park Sewer Treatment Plant repairs; Posilico Civil Inc. of Farmingdale, which has a $13.1 million contract for Bay Park plant cleanup; and Grace Industries Llc of Plainview, which is expected to receive $8 million for work including debris cleanup. The companies either declined to comment or didn't return calls.

Several other companies also were sent letters by the comptroller: Eldor Contracting of Holtsville; Laser Industries Inc. of Ridge; Nelson & Pope Engineers and Surveyors of Melville; Hazen & Sawyer of Manhattan; Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving Inc. of Hicksville; The Landtek Group Inc. of Amityville; 192 Branch Interior Services Inc. of Ronkonkoma, and CSM Engineering PC of Uniondale. No other details were available. The companies either declined to comment or did not return calls Monday.

Emergency work cited

Maragos' office said it usually receives contractor payroll records, including subcontractors, but had not after Sandy because of the work's emergency nature.

The Nassau charter requires companies on public works contracts to supply verified statements of all amounts due and owed to its subcontractors and their employees before the comptroller approves payment. Public works officials testified to the legislature that Looks Great manages 40 to 58 subcontractors.

But the county attorney's office contends that Looks Great is working under a "purchase order" supervised by public works -- not a public works contract -- that does not require the county to collect subcontractor payroll data.

Deputy County Attorney Brian Libert initially said the Public Works Department did not have a list of Looks Great subcontractors. Subsequently, he said all records relating to the company cannot be released because they are on "litigation hold." He did not explain the term and referred questions to Mangano's press office.

But Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said, "While I am unaware of the comptroller's request, all documents are available for review. I am unaware of any litigation at this time."

The county has paid Looks Great about $35 million of the $68.8 million approved by the legislature, Maragos said.

Looks Great spokeswoman Risa Heller said the company had yet to hear from Maragos. She said the company "prides itself in maintaining compliance and cooperation above that normally required by any and all government agencies.

"From the beginning hours of Hurricane Sandy, LGS personnel worked hand-in-hand with federal, state and local officials .?.?. " Heller said. "If we receive a letter from the comptroller's office, we will work with them in every way possible."

Company slammed

Looks Great drew criticism after Sandy for chopping down trees in the Welwyn Preserve in Glen Cove and then for toppling trees along Searingtown and Shelter Rock roads. Public works officials said the felled trees were damaged and dangerous.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove), who questioned Looks Great's work after the Welwyn incident, said she had asked Maragos last week for Looks Great subcontractor and payroll records.

"The comptroller is really the first line of defense in protecting our taxpayer money," she said. "The records I've seen are sloppy at best. I'm very concerned we don't have any proof regarding [payment of] prevailing wage or the dates and times when work was done."

Some unions have complained about out-of-state crews working on Sandy recovery and questioned whether they were paid required wages.

For instance, Jeremy Wise, counsel to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, advised members of the county's financial control board before they approved Looks Great's contracts in February, that "some of the unions are unhappy with this."

Phillip Capobianco of Local 138 Operating engineers, who attended the meeting, called out loudly, "Very unhappy."

With Deon J. Hampton

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