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Nassau lawmakers approve $400,000 for company being probed

Patti Ambrosia, left, and Domenica Calafano hold signs

Patti Ambrosia, left, and Domenica Calafano hold signs objecting to the VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group contract as the Nassau County Legislature Rules Committee discusses the contract that is under criminal investigation during the meeting on Monday, June 6, 2016 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau lawmakers on Monday narrowly approved paying nearly $400,000 more to a company whose county contract is the focus of federal and local corruption investigations.

The county legislature’s Republican-led Rules Committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to amend the contract with VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group Inc. The Island Park firm already has been paid $12.2 million under the federally funded agreement to pull superstorm Sandy debris from South Shore waters.

Officials in the administration of County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, told legislators the amendment covered $386,642 in additional work the company did during its initial contract term, ending in January 2015.

The balance was already paid to Nassau by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which monitored and OK’d all of VIP Splash’s debris removal, said Brian Schneider, a county public works official.

“Their work is done,” Schneider said. “This is really only for payment purposes.”

But Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) questioned how lawmakers could approve adding any amount of money to a contract being probed for its ties to political contributions to Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker.

“I can’t believe this legislature would move forward, knowing we have a black cloud over this,” Abrahams said.

Deputy County Attorney Daniel Grippo acknowledged Monday that the county received VIP Splash-related subpoenas from the Nassau district attorney last August and from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in February. He said he didn’t believe the county had a right to hold up the contract for that reason.

“The alternative is litigation and you’d be arguing that the commencement of an investigation justified non-payment,” Grippo said. “We’re not recommending that.”

VIP Splash incorporated with New York State in 2013, just days before Nassau first solicited bids for Sandy waterways debris removal. It was awarded an initial $4 million contract over more-experienced storm cleanup firms.

Several company principals have ties to Operation SPLASH, a nonprofit environmental group that, after VIP Splash got the contract, dropped its previous opposition to a large county sewer privatization. Officials with both the company and nonprofit said the two events had no bearing on each other.

Nassau gave VIP Splash an $8.2 million amendment in 2014. On the same day Walker signed the amendment, VIP Splash contributed $2,925 to Walker’s Hicksville Republican Committee.

Walker has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged.

During debate on the amendment, Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) suggested that charges may never come from the investigations: “When these authorities have completed their investigations, do they tell us?”

Abrahams, however, said county Comptroller George Maragos’ office should not pay VIP Splash more money until investigations are concluded.

A Maragos spokeswoman said the office will “thoroughly audit” any VIP Splash claims.

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