Of all the appointments made by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano since taking office in January, one in particular is drawing questions: a $90,000-a-year minority affairs job that went to a man convicted of participating in a scam to sell patient information from Nassau University Medical Center.
Mangano defended the appointment of Herberth Flores to the post of deputy director of the Office of Minority Affairs as a "second chance," and state and county officials say there is no blanket prohibition against hiring people with criminal records.
However, good government watchdogs and other critics, including some in the Hispanic community, questioned the hiring, in part because the crime was committed against a county institution in general and Hispanics in particular.
Flores, 37, of East Meadow, and members of his family were driving forces in Latinos for Mangano, according to political sources and postings on the campaign Web site. Mangano has credited the group as being instrumental in his stunning election last November when he defeated Democratic incumbent Thomas Suozzi.
Mangano said in a statement that he was aware that Flores had pleaded guilty in 2005 to attempted bribery of a public servant. "So-called perfect people screwed up Nassau County. I bet less than perfect people will repair Nassau County. Welcome to our second-chance administration. We will not let our residents down," the statement said. Spokesman Michael Martino said the administration has not hired any other felons.
Suozzi, who is a consultant for Cablevision, which owns Newsday, declined to comment on Mangano's statement. He also declined to comment on whether he had ever hired anyone with a criminal record.
Both Mangano and Flores declined requests for interviews.
Some Latino advocates declined to comment because they said they have to work with the Mangano administration or because they did not know enough about Flores.
Former Democratic County Legis. David Mejias, a leading figure in the Latino community, blasted the appointment, saying Flores has a felony conviction "for preying on the Latino community."
"It's outrageous . . . [Flores has been] chosen to represent us in government," Mejias said.
But Gil Bernadino of Circulo de la Hispanidad, a Long Beach-based nonprofit that provides social services to the Latino community, said the appointment was "a good choice." Bernadino said he was not aware of Flores' felony conviction but said it did not affect his opinion: "He made a mistake - I don't want to judge him for life."
Martino said the only prohibition against hiring someone with a criminal record would be for a specific job title, such as police officer.
Mark Smith, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, said that criminal background checks are conducted for every county hire but that a felony conviction is not an automatic deal breaker for a non-civil service job.
Mark Lavigne, a spokesman for the New York State Association of Counties, said he knew of no counties that barred all felons from government jobs.
Still, some critics said the nature of Flores' crime - offering bribes to employees at the county-owned Nassau University Medical Center - may be difficult for people to swallow.
"Nobody's perfect, but in this particular case certainly it is a real problem," said Patrick Halpin, a former Democratic Suffolk County executive.
"It's up to Mr. Mangano to make the case to why this person is uniquely qualified for this position," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "If he can't, the taxpayers should take notice."
Flores and his brothers Rafael and Gilberto worked with Latinos for Mangano during Mangano's campaign. The campaign made 12 payments totaling $17,656 to US Stars, a Hempstead company owned by Herberth Flores and his wife, Lidi, for campaign work.
The Flores brothers, along with former Hempstead Village Mayor James Garner, an African-American, and a few other minorities gave Mangano traction in heavily minority areas of the Town of Hempstead, according to several political sources.
"Herberth and Rafael will bust a gut working for your campaign," one Democratic campaign adviser said.
Nubia Lopez, president of the Hempstead-based Salvadoran Civic Committee of New York, said Flores and his family were not active with community groups. "Our community needs a person who has been working with us," she said.
With Michael Amon, Reid Epstein and Bart Jones
The 2004 case against Herberth Flores
Herberth Flores, now an aide to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, was one of eight people named in an insurance scam involving patients at Nassau University Medical Center six years ago.
Prosecutors said in announcing the arrests in 2004 that three hospital employees were bribed to pass along personal information about patients, mostly Hispanics who were admitted to the emergency room after car crashes.
Flores and the others "solicited accident victims, referred them to attorneys, coached them to exaggerate their injuries and transported them to appointments with attorneys and medical providers," according to the felony complaint.
Flores served as the liaison between the employees and lawyers, prosecutors said. The complaint said Flores "gave a cash payment to . . . a public servant employed by the Nassau University Medical Center. . .with the understanding that. . . would provide the defendant with patient records belonging to NUMC."
He was sentenced on Nov. 9, 2005, to 60 days in jail and five years probation on his plea to a D felony, attempted bribery of a public servant, records show.
His brother, Rafael, pleaded guilty to third-degree attempted bribery and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years' probation, court records show. Herberth's wife, Lidi, pleaded guilty to attempted bribery of a public servant and was sentenced to five years' probation, records show.
The only attorney found guilty of wrongdoing was Richard Boter, who pleaded guilty in June 2005 to a violation of the Judiciary Law for using another person to solicit legal business, according to the district attorney's office.
Boter was sentenced to three years' probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to do community service, the district attorney's office said. He was disbarred, according to the Web site of the state Office of Court Administration.