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Audit: Nassau County Board of Ethics 'failed in its mission'

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman at a news

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman at a news conference on Jan. 30 in Mineola, where he unveiled the new county-based web portal. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau Board of Ethics under the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano "failed in its mission," letting nepotism go largely unchecked and failing to fully review financial disclosure statements of county workers, according to an audit released Wednesday by county Comptroller Jack Schnirman.

Schnirman, in the first part of the audit on how nepotism impacts the functioning of county agencies, looked at the performance of county's Board of Ethics during the Mangano administration.

The audit found:

  • No investigations or actions were taken while corruption allegations and arrests related to Nassau County's contracting process were taking place.
  • Financial disclosure statements were not fully reviewed and not all of the 700 individuals required to submit such disclosures in 2017 filed.
  • Most county employees have not received the updated code of ethics and formal ethics training.
  • Emails to the ethics board — including ethics complaints —were read by individuals not then associated with the board.

According to its website, the Board of Ethics investigates complaints of ethical misconduct, administers the financial disclosure program and assists county officers and employees "in avoiding ethical missteps before they occur."

Schnirman, a Democrat who took office in 2018, said "when we launched this audit series, we said it wasn't just going to be about putting out a gotcha list of names and walking away. We must start with structural reform and a strong code of ethics is the cornerstone of that reform." 

Schnirman's audit found the board involves itself in questions about nepotism or potential nepotism when a county officer or employee requests advice, nepotism is self-reported in annual financial disclosure statements or when it is the subject of a complaint. 

Nepotism is the practice in which those in power or with influence favor relatives or friends by providing them with jobs or county business.

Schnirman's office launched its audit of nepotism in county government in April 2018. Part two of the audit will examine the county's Human Resources Department and part three will focus on civil service hiring. 

A Newsday investigation in October 2017 found more than 100 current or former elected officeholders, high-level appointees and political club leaders of both major parties had at least one family member working in local government at some point since 2015. 

Ethics Board Chairman Kenneth Gartner said in a written rebuttal to the audit that the new board "has been actively working to update its policies and procedures, and implement new practices to enhance its transparency and effectiveness."

But John Ciampoli, a former Nassau County attorney and commissioner of investigations during the Mangano administration who also served on the board, called Schnirman's audit "flawed." 

"There seems to be a lack of understanding of the law and also about some of the facts," Ciampoli said as he reviewed the 119-page report Wednesday afternoon. He said the expectation that the ethics board would review each financial disclosure statement constituted, "a ridiculously high standard." 

"I had every confidence in what they [the Board of Ethics under Mangano] were doing with the resources the county gave them." 

A federal jury last month convicted Mangano, a Republican, and his wife, Linda, of corruption charges. For prosecutors, the convictions delivered a long-awaited victory against corruption in Nassau after several years of investigation and a trial and retrial held less than a year apart.

Edward Mangano vowed outside the courthouse that he and his wife would appeal their convictions.

"I'm very proud of my service as county executive. I would not and could not be bribed by anyone,” Mangano said. "We remain confident that we'll be vindicated.”

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