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NIFA brokers settlement to pay law firms used by Nassau

Adam Barsky, chairman of NIFA, left, speaks during

Adam Barsky, chairman of NIFA, left, speaks during a NIFA meeting in Uniondale, Tuesday evening, May 17, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Nassau’s financial control board has negotiated a settlement with county officials to pay 90 percent of $1.8 million in bills submitted by law firms for work completed without the board’s approval, officials said Wednesday.

The deal, which means the firms would take a 10 percent cut on their outstanding bills, comes after the Nassau Interim Finance Authority board directed its chairman, Adam Barsky, last month to negotiate a settlement.

Barsky issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging that NIFA and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, “have agreed on the basic terms of an agreement to resolve a long-standing dispute regarding NIFA’s authority to approve contracts before work is commenced. The largest group of aggrieved contractors were certain legal firms, which have agreed to ‘cut’ their fees on certain disputed contracts. It is anticipated that this single measure will save the County thousands of dollars.”

NIFA sources said the primary law firms are Rivkin Radler, which has represented Nassau in the property tax refund case originally filed by New York Telephone; Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West, which advises on development of the Nassau Coliseum; and Vecchione, Vecchione & Connors, which does Nassau’s workmen’s compensation cases.

Rivkin Radler has about $300,000 in outstanding bills, according to County Comptroller George Maragos. Partner William Savino said through a spokeswoman Wednesday, “We have received no official word from anyone. Our professionalism prevents us from discussing fee arrangements that we have with our clients.”

NIFA records show Pannone Lopes has submitted $790,000 in unapproved fees and Vecchione has $712,000 in unpaid bills. Neither firm returned calls for comment.

Altogether, NIFA has approved more than $6 million in fees for the three firms since taking control of Nassau’s finances in 2011. During a control period, NIFA’s approval is supposed to be required for contracts of $50,000 or more.

County Attorney Carnell Foskey has justified the unauthorized legal work by saying he needed to respond to emergencies, but has agreed to implement new rules to ensure NIFA approval before $50,000 or more in work is completed.

“The county attorney’s office has been working with NIFA to refine procedures with respect to the engagement of outside counsel,” Foskey said in a statement before the deal was announced. “We are optimistic that the reforms will strike a reasonable balance that should simultaneously satisfy the county attorney’s obligation to provide timely legal representation for the county and NIFA’s concerns.”

The county for at least 30 years has allowed vendors to begin work without an approved contract or to run up higher bills than authorized. Then-County Comptroller Peter King, now a congressman, in 1986 acknowledged the practice but said contractors work at their own risk.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in 2013 scolded the county for allowing vendors to start before their contracts are approved, finding that more than half the vendors reviewed in an audit began work before their agreements were signed.

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