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Nassau lawmakers: Technology contractor connections never disclosed

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced a pilot

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced a pilot partnership with Exiger in Mineola on Feb 27. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Nassau officials had been negotiating with a technology research company for more than a year when County Executive Laura Curran in July withdrew a nearly $500,000 contract with the company after county legislators raised questions about preferential treatment in the firm's selection.

While Curran ran on a platform of transparency in government, high-ranking county officials never publicly disclosed to lawmakers their previous associations with principals of Manhattan-based Exiger LLC during 16 months of discussions with the company, according to county legislators and backup information provided to lawmakers.

Those talks resulted in Exiger agreeing to provide Nassau with 18 months of free online monitoring of county contractors to detect potential problems and risks, beginning in March.

In April, the Curran administration recommended that Exiger be awarded a $497,500 contract to serve as an “integrity monitor” to detect and prevent fraud and abuse while overseeing construction of Nassau’s new police academy.

A review of records and news reports shows county officials' connections to Exiger include:

•       Nassau’s chief compliance officer, Deputy County Executive John Chiara, who led the county’s discussions with Exiger and pressed lawmakers to approve its police academy contract, had worked for and with top Exiger principals while he was an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office from 2006 through 2015, Manhattan DA records show.

•       The Nassau County Legislature’s inspector general, Jodi Franzese, who served on the committee that recommended Exiger for the police academy project, worked for the New York City Department of Investigation from 2015 through 2017, when Exiger had a contract with the department. The DOI was one of Exiger’s three references when it applied for the Nassau work, according to county records.

•       Daniel Alonso, an Exiger managing director and general counsel, was chief assistant to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in 2011 when Alonso recommended that Stroz Friedberg, a company where Laura Curran’s husband John was executive managing director, be hired during the assault case involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former director of the International Monetary Fund, according to New York City and county records, and news reports.

The news reports put the cost of the contract with Stroz Friedberg to provide security at $200,000 a month while Strauss-Kahn was under house arrest from May 2011 until August 2011 for allegedly assaulting a maid in a Manhattan hotel. Vance dropped charges against Strauss-Kahn that August.

John Curran, who had worked with Alonso from 1996 through 2005 when both were assistant U.S. attorneys in New York's Eastern District, is an expert in the type of cyber security monitoring Exiger still provides Nassau for free, according to his online resume for a law firm he joined after Stroz Friedberg was purchased by Aon in 2016.

There was no legal requirement that county officials disclose past associations with Exiger principals because they had no current working or monetary relationships.

Curran, a Democrat, promised during her county executive campaign in 2017 that her administration would promote transparency and ethics.

She stressed the issue again in February when she announced the contract with Exiger for vendor monitoring.

“Nassau County has long been plagued by a culture of corruption and favoritism due to lack of controls and transparency in the county’s contracting and procurement process,” Curran said.

Curran administration officials defended their dealings with Exiger.

Curran spokeswoman Justine DiGiglio said Chiara, whose job is to ensure the county complies with regulatory and legal requirements, “repeatedly disclosed verbally to everyone involved in the procurement process” that he had worked with Exiger principals.

DiGiglio wouldn't identify whom Chiara told or when he told them.

There is no disclosure of Chiara’s associations with Exiger principals in legislative minutes or backup documents for the contract sent to the county Legislature.

Chiara did not mention those relationships during a June meeting when lawmakers questioned him closely about the Exiger selection process.

He also did not disclose that Exiger had contacted him more than a year earlier about the possibility of getting work with the county.

Curran pulled Exiger’s police academy contract in July, citing “the number of legislative questions about the participants in the selection process.”

County legislators had tabled the proposal in June, expressing concern about how Exiger was selected, Franzese’s role and whether the company had received preferential treatment by offering the free vendor monitoring.

“Exiger did not receive any preferential treatment,” DiGiglio said. ”Like any other vendor, the company went through well-documented competitive procurement governed by county policy and state law.”

DiGiglio said Exiger Vice President Eli Cherkasky initially contacted Chiara “in a routine sales pitch” in April 2018.

Chiara worked with Eli Cherkasky, son of Exiger co-founder Michael Cherkasky, from 2006 through 2015 when they were assistant district attorneys in the rackets bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. They served under both District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Vance, who succeeded Morgenthau in January 2010.

Also, Chiara and Eli Cherasky worked under Alonso when Alonso was Vance's chief assistant from 2010 through February 2014.

Cherkasky left Vance's office in September 2015 after he was convicted of assault for choking and hitting a woman in a Manhattan bar.

DiGiglio said the conviction was not relevant to the services that Exiger was offering to Nassau, and did not require disclosure because he is not a principal or owner of more than 10 percent of the company.

Franzese said she was not assigned to the city investigations department unit that interacted with integrity monitors. "Nor was I involved, in any way, with Exiger," she said in an email. 

DiGiglio also said neither Laura Curran nor John Curran were involved in bringing Exiger to Nassau.

DiGiglio said that as Nassau’s first female county executive, Curran “takes exception” to any suggestion she should have mentioned her husband’s experience in computer monitoring when she announced Exiger’s vendor monitoring program.

“No mansplaining needed,” DiGigilo said in an email. “Her husband’s current and past employment are completely separate and apart from county business. She does not solicit his advice on county matters.”

But Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore) said, “as much as the County Executive likes to talk about transparency and rooting out patronage, as they say in sports, you are what your record says you are. And the record isn't pretty. The failure to disclose the web of connections between high ranking members of the Curran Administration and a company she tried to steer a $500,000 sweetheart contract to is just the latest troubling example of the lip service to transparency being offered by the County Executive.”

Rhoads said he questioned Chiara "when this matter was before the Legislature and never once did he disclose even his own strong connection, much less others. If the Administration cared about transparency, why weren't those connections disclosed?”

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said she had not seen any disclosure about county relationships with Exiger in the materials given to the legislature for the police academy contract.  

“Everything you know should be in the backup,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “That’s what we rely on to cast our votes.”

DiGiglio said only vendors, not county employees, are required to fill out contract disclosure forms that were revised by the county Legislature to promote more transparency after procurement scandals involving the previous administration of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.

Michael Cherkasky, saying he was responding for Alonso, declined to answer specific questions about possible connections to Chiara, Franzese or John Curran.

“As of this date Exiger continues to provide a Due Diligence technology service, free of charge as a trial, after an RFP [request for proposal], to Nassau County, with the hope that it would prove to provide adequate value for a potential future contract, if Nassau so chose, that might be in the five figure range,” Cherasky said in an emailed statement.

“We also honestly did it because it is, we believe, a good government practice to know who your contractors are, and we believe the practice should be adopted across the United States," Cherasky said.

"Because of that … Exiger, the low bidder with the best references has somehow been denied a contract for six figures, $500,000, to monitor construction for Nassau County," Cherasky said. "With all due respect, the much more significant investigation should be why we lost that totally independent contract rather than how we 'won' the RFP and the 'benefit' to give away a free trial."

Cherkasky continued, “Our final comment is, as Robert Morgenthau frequently said, 'No good deed goes unpunished.' I would add … in Nassau County politics."

County officials say Exiger has done useful work under the pilot vendor monitoring program.

In March, the program identified a federal Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of a county vendor’s parent company, Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said.

"Although the vendor provided sufficient justification that the investigation will have no adverse impact on the company's business, it is unlikely that Nassau would have become aware of this matter without access to Exiger’s software,” Geed said in an email.

Geed declined to name the vendor or parent company, citing "defamation" concerns.


 

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