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Singas: Nassau contracting process a 'recipe for corruption'

Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas in

Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas in Mineola on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's process for awarding contracts is "a recipe for corruption," with no requirements that vendors disclose criminal convictions and no easy way to check for conflicts of interest, acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said Thursday.

Singas released a 36-page report based on a review she began in April, when federal prosecutors accused then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of illegally influencing the awarding of a $12 million county contract to a company that hired his son, Adam.

The county's largely paper-based contracting system, Singas said, has "serious systematic deficiencies," including no requirements that vendors disclose tax liens and other financial judgments. She said the process provides no easy way to cross-check potential conflicts of interest between vendors and county officials' financial disclosure statements.

While the report doesn't name specific cases, Singas said her staff identified a contractor with ties to organized crime and a convicted bid-rigger. Other vendors have felony convictions, bankruptcies and are prohibited from contracts in other locations, she said.

Singas said the county should establish a new, independent inspector general's office with the authority to vet and investigate all contracts.

"When it comes to government contracts, the honor system just doesn't cut it," said Singas, a Democrat who is running for election this year. "Nassau's antiquated contracting process is a recipe for corruption and it's critical that our leaders take immediate action to modernize and fortify this broken system."

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, said the administration will examine the report and meet with county officials "to determine how best to improve the procurement process."

The report noted that problems with the contracting process are "the product of no one administration or political party." Instead, they result from "years of neglect, ineffectual, surface-level reforms, and a regrettable failure to learn from past failings."

Singas noted the differences between Nassau and New York City, which requires vendors to disclose criminal cases, tax liens, and municipalities that bar them from receiving work.

Mangano and the county legislature recently required that vendors for the first time disclose their use of lobbyists.

The legislature would have to approve an inspector general's office to replace the vacant commissioner of investigations position. The IG would be appointed by the county executive and serve a four-year term.

A spokesman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment, saying Gonsalves was reviewing Singas' report.

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, said establishing an inspector general is a "worthwhile investment" that would save money by uncovering waste and fraud.

Singas launched her review after disclosure that Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was under investigation for influencing the awarding of a storm water treatment contract to AbTech Industries, an Arizona firm that employed Adam Skelos as a consultant.

AbTech won the contract even though one of the other two bidders proposed a lower cost. Federal authorities said AbTech submitted an unsolicited proposal for their antipollution storm water treatment technology and then responded to a Request for Proposals from Nassau that used similar language.

Dean and Adam Skelos pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, bribery and extortion charges.

Singas said her staff was "placing special emphasis" on contracts that came from unsolicited proposals, and those that fell just shy of the $25,000 threshold for needing legislative approval.

Newsday reported last month that Nassau had awarded a contract for $24,000 to former NYPD Det. Richard "Bo" Dietl to study the possible merger of the Hempstead and Freeport village police departments with the county police department.

Another contract in 2011 with Dietl to study security at the county's Cedar Creek sewage treatment plant was for $24,947.

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