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Nassau probes Looks Great's Sandy tree work

Trucks with the Looks Great Services logo are

Trucks with the Looks Great Services logo are parked in a lot in Huntington. (April 1, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Investigators from the Nassau County district attorney's office are trying to determine if a Huntington contracting company needlessly removed trees after superstorm Sandy and if anyone benefitted financially from the work, a law enforcement source said.

The source said investigators will seek help from tree experts who will try to tell whether the trees that were felled by Looks Great Services Inc. of Huntington -- ostensibly because they had been severely damaged by the storm -- were, in fact, removed according to the proper protocol.

They are also looking at whether anyone would have had a financial incentive to remove trees that should have been spared, the source said.

Earlier this year, Rice's office subpoenaed county records involving its dealings with Looks Great Services, which was authorized by the county legislature to perform nearly $70 million worth of debris cleanup and removal in the wake of Sandy.

Before any trees were removed, a Nassau County Department of Public Works spokesman said, about 100 workers, both county employees and independent consultants, marked trees using equipment from a Mississippi-based company called Debris Tech.

The workers were all taught Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for which trees should be removed, the spokesman, Michael Martino, said in an email.

Using the Debris Tech equipment, each tree being removed was then photographed, and the reason for its removal and its GPS location were recorded, Martino said.

It is that documentation, in part, that investigators and tree experts will review to see if the trees actually needed to be removed, the law enforcement source said.

The law enforcement source said many of the photographs do not show the damage cited on paperwork as the reason for the trees' removal.

Martino disagreed.

"For anyone to suggest trees were taken down without cause is offensive, as this administration has planted thousands of trees since taking office and is now replanting 1,400 trees in nature preserves alone and thousands throughout the County," he said.

Dave Arnold, a spokesman for Looks Great Services, said that company removed only trees that the county specifically told it to.

"The entire process is overseen by county inspectors," he said.

Since Sandy, millions of dollars in federal money have flowed to Long Island and other storm-affected areas of the Northeast for cleanup and repair work. Nassau has paid Looks Great about $35.5 million of $68.8 million that the county legislature approved for the company's Sandy cleanup work, county Comptroller George Maragos has said.

Along with the county and Looks Great, Rice's office also has issued subpoenas to A-H Construction and Renu Restoration and Contracting, according to two sources close to the case. These subpoenas involve prevailing wage or contractual complaints, the sources said.

The district attorney is examining how the county entered into agreements for post-Sandy cleanup work, as well as oversight and controls for the work.

Looks Great is also under scrutiny by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, and federal investigators, Newsday has reported. The state is looking into how cleanup contract work was obtained and performance of companies that did the work, according to a source familiar with that investigation. The federal probe of Looks Great is now the fourth opened in the six months since Sandy hit into how Long Island governments hired contractors.

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