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Nassau Dems claim GOP club misspent funds

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (Aug.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Democrats Wednesday filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections claiming that County Executive Edward Mangano and his chief deputy, Rob Walker, are illegally using a Hicksville Republican club as a secret, unreported source of contributions to Mangano's 2013 re-election campaign.

Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs noted in his complaint that contributions to the Hicksville Republican Committee "skyrocketed" after Mangano three years ago won an underdog campaign run by Walker, the Hicksville West Republican leader.

The Hicksville Republican Committee filed expenses with the state that appear clearly related to Mangano fundraisers, but were not reported by Mangano's campaign committee as contributions, Jacobs wrote. For instance, he cited two American Express bills totaling $4,000 that were labeled "Myrtle Beach fundraiser" and dated shortly after Mangano held a two-day golf outing in Myrtle Beach in late February.

Jacobs also alleged that large donations to the Hicksville club by some contributors were intended to circumvent a $45,454 individual limit on county executive race contributions.

Mangano and Walker "have knowingly and willfully solicited, organized or coordinated activities by and through the Hicksville Republican club to surreptitiously fund Mangano's campaign . . . in a manner designed to avoid campaign contribution limitations," he wrote.

Mangano and Walker denied Jacobs' allegations.

"This is a desperate act by an unsuccessful political party boss whose campaign to sabotage Nassau County has failed miserably," Mangano said through a spokesman.

Walker said in a statement, "There is absolutely no truth to these allegations and we are exploring legal action against Jay Jacobs, the Democratic Party and their counsel for filing false instruments and libelous statements."

Jacobs said, "Bring it on . . . There's nothing libelous if it's true. All we're doing is reporting on what their filings have said."

A spokesman for the state elections board said it will not disclose any complaint unless a final determination is made on its merit. If warranted, the state board would determine sanctions, he said.


Spike in contributions

A Newsday review of the Hicksville Republican Committee's campaign finance reports shows that contributions to the club ballooned after Mangano was elected in November 2009. The club reported raising just less than $35,000 from July 2009 through July 2010. From July 2011 through July 2012, it collected more than $363,000.

The largest donations came in April 2012 just before the club purchased a luxury box at MetLife stadium in New Jersey for $204,000 to be used "for fundraisers and for bringing people to the game," Walker said in an earlier interview.

He said buying the box for a year was similar to renting a golf course for an outing or borrowing a backyard for a barbecue. "It's something that's different. People enjoy coming out to the game. In many cases, people bring their families."

Walker denied that the box and other club spending supported Mangano's re-election, saying the costs reflect Hicksville club members' expenses to attend the fundraisers.

The box was not used for Mangano's May fundraiser at the stadium when supporters got the chance to drive a Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo, Walker said. Although Mangano invited supporters to hear Bruce Springsteen this week, Walker said in the earlier interview that he didn't know if the box would be part of it.

If any politician, including Mangano, uses the suite, Walker said, his club will report it as an in-kind contribution.

Big donors

Reports show one of Hicksville's largest donations came from Donald Codignotto, who gave $25,000. He is the brother of honorary Assistant Police Commissioner Robert Codignotto. Another longtime honorary police commissioner, David Mack, gave $10,000. Neither could be reached for comment.

Joanne Smith, the wife of Matt Smith, gave $10,000. Matt Smith is president of Standard Valuation Services, which has received more than $2.5 million in county work since Mangano took office. Joanne Smith could not be reached and Matt Smith declined to comment.

Keith Lizza of Jericho and Aly Lizza of Oyster Bay each gave $45,000. The Lizza family, which operate paving companies, are longtime Oyster Bay Town contributors and vendors. Neither could be reached for comment. Two Lizza companies have earned $23.7 million from Nassau since 2010, according to the county comptroller's office.

The club's largest single contributor was James Hagedorn, chief executive and chairman of the board of Scott's Miracle-Gro, who gave $50,000. Hagedorn also is secretary of the Friends of Sands Point Preserve, a private nonprofit group that runs the county's North Shore park. Hagedorn's wife, Karli, is the board chairman.

Jacobs' complaint alleges that Walker threatened to cancel the Friends' permit to run the preserve in 2010. The previous county administration had agreed to pay the group $1.72 million over 10 years with the largest payments upfront.

The permit allowed either the county or the Friends to terminate the agreement with 30 days' written notice.

The county did not cancel, but amended the permit this January: The large upfront payments were reduced though the total amount paid over the term remained the same. And the county agreed to provide "all routine care and maintenance of the grounds."

Walker and Hagedorn said the Friends agreement had nothing to with the contribution. "There was never any quid pro quo," Walker said. "All of this is silly."


Making friends

Walker said he developed many friends during his years as a deputy parks commissioner in Oyster Bay and as a state assemblyman. "People do like me," he said.

Hagedorn in an earlier interview agreed. "I like Walker, I like working with him," he said. "I think Walker is kind of a cool guy. He's got a really good heart."

Hagedorn said Walker, who is the county's member on the Friends' board, had worked hard to resolve any problems at the preserve. He said he also knew the Hicksville club planned to use his donation to buy the stadium box. "I was aware of it," Hagedorn said. "I thought it was a clever way of building some financial horsepower."

Walker said the club did everything properly. "I filed so nobody can say anything," he said. "It's totally above board."

Jacobs' complaint also alleged that $35,000 the committee spent on a fundraising consultant went to Walker's former Nassau special assistant Kristen DiCerbo, who lives in the same Westbury apartment building where the company, KKL Associates, is registered. Jacobs alleged the payments were illegal because KKL was not incorporated until after the payments were made.

DiCerbo could not be reached, but Walker denied the payments went to her.

"I think people make things up," Walker said. "It's a company."

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