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Nassau land seller was in default by nearly $400,000, court records show

The vacant site of the former Emil's Garden

The vacant site of the former Emil's Garden Nursery on Stewart Avenue in Bethpage was under consideration for an $800,000 purchase by Nassau County. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

A political appointee of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano was nearly $400,000 in default on his mortgage when the county offered to buy his land, court records show.

Deputy Parks Commissioner Frank Camerlengo could receive $800,000, pending approval by the county planning commission and the county legislature, for four lots on Stewart Avenue in Bethpage, one of which has been in foreclosure since early last year. The 1-acre parcel that includes the foreclosed home once was a nursery but now is used to store landscaping equipment.

Aides to Mangano, a Republican who lives in Bethpage, first pitched the sale last month to the planning commission. They said the site -- a farm in the early 1900s -- would be a "cultural and educational center" for local agricultural history.

The administration defends the purchase, which it will pay for with money from a dedicated open space fund that contains about $1.1 million. Neighbors have told Mangano that they don't want to see the property used for new homes or another landscaping business.

"The most important thing to the county executive is, is the land useful and is it affordable?" Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said Wednesday. "He stands behind the project."

Ward provided records showing the property was worth $800,000 when the county had it appraised in June 2012.

JPMorgan Chase sued Camerlengo in January 2013, claiming he was in default on his mortgage as of May 2012 and owed $395,479. On Dec. 17, after Camerlengo's case had been continued several times in efforts to reach a settlement, Deputy County Executive Charles Theofan wrote to Camerlengo's attorney that Nassau "fully intends to purchase" the Bethpage lots, including the foreclosed one. "We are expediting the process," he wrote.

Camerlengo, who once served on the Bethpage Chamber of Commerce board with Mangano, was hired by the administration in January 2010, the month Mangano took office. Camerlengo and immediate family members have given Mangano $10,000 in campaign contributions since 2009, according to state records.

On Jan. 1, Camerlengo received a raise from $99,000 to $125,000 -- at a time when a wage freeze was in effect for all unionized and appointed employees. The administration said Camerlengo and nine other appointees who got raises had taken on increased duties.

On March 17, Camerlengo went into contract with Nassau County, and Theofan first presented the deal to the planning commission on March 20.

Theofan didn't disclose Camerlengo's county job at that meeting, but did so at the April 10 meeting, after a commissioner asked him about it during the public hearing. Theofan also never disclosed the foreclosure to the commission.

Administration officials said Wednesday that they weren't required to disclose Camerlengo's employment until the deal comes before the legislature.

"I believe we did nothing wrong," Theofan said Wednesday, adding that he also didn't believe the commission needed to know about the foreclosure.

Camerlengo's attorney, Michael Mirotznik of East Meadow, said this week that he hasn't heard from the county since Theofan's December letter. Mirotznik said that by selling to Nassau, Camerlengo likely would get less money for the Bethpage property than if he sold to new home builders.

"If the county doesn't move on it, Frank should sell the property to developers and let them spot-build four to five houses, and then the neighbors will be angry," Mirotznik said. "It seems better to have a park there than more homes."

Mangano recently named Mirotznik to lead the board for NuHealth, which includes Nassau University Medical Center.

The planning commission is scheduled to resume consideration of the Camerlengo deal on May 1. The administration has requested an opinion on the real estate deal from the county ethics board, with a majority appointed by Mangano. Planning members have said they will not make a decision until the ethics board rules.

If approved by the Republican-majority planning commission and the county's open space advisory council, a citizen's board that reviews environmental acquisitions, the land deal would go before the GOP-controlled Nassau County Legislature before the sale contract could be finalized.

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