Despite Democratic objections, Nassau Republicans agreed to hire an outside legal expert for $50,000 this year to advise the county's Ethics Board.
Republican lawmakers on the county legislature's Rules Committee approved a one-year contract with Roslyn attorney Steven Leventhal, a former chairman and adviser to the Nassau Ethics Board who counsels and teaches ethics throughout the region. The contract, which does not need full legislative approval, has a one-year renewal option.
The committee's three Democrats voted against the contract, contending the job could be done in-house. They also questioned whether Leventhal had a conflict of interest because his father did accounting work for County Attorney John Ciampoli.
Ciampoli last month gave the legislature a letter from Roslyn CPA Morton Leventhal confirming that Ciampoli had paid his taxes. At the time, Democrats were questioning Ciampoli about two federal tax liens recorded against him.
The letter said, "This is to confirm that your tax returns for all periods have been filed and that your tax liabilities for all periods have been paid."
At this week's meeting, Minority Leader Diane Yatauro demanded, "There's no one else that our county attorney could find other than the son of his CPA. . . . Do you see a conflict?"
Republicans disagreed, while Ciampoli, who was not at the meeting, said Wednesday, "This is stupid." He said Steven Leventhal is an ethics expert who helped write Nassau's ethics law.
"I am certain that Morton Leventhal, as his father, is very proud of him. That in and of itself doesn't create a conflict," Ciampoli said.
Steven Leventhal said, "There is no conflict of interest. I am not a member of the accounting firm that provided those services to Mr. Ciampoli. I have a law practice that functions independently."
He said he had served on the Nassau Board of Ethics from 1990 to 2002, six years as its chairman. Former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi hired him to act as the board's adviser from 2002 through 2003, he said.
Leventhal also said he serves as special counsel to Suffolk County's Ethics Commission and as counsel to the ethics boards of North Hempstead, Southampton and Rockville Centre. Through the State Association of Counties, he said he provides ethics orientation to newly elected county officials and also gives lectures in government ethics at Cornell University.