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Laura Curran faces skirmish with GOP over borrowing for settlement

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's request to borrow

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's request to borrow $45 million could face opposition. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Democratic County Executive Laura Curran may face her first skirmish with the Republican-controlled Nassau County Legislature next week when committees consider her request to borrow $45 million to pay a court judgment won by two men exonerated in a 1984 rape and murder.

The request comes after the U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear Nassau’s appeal of the 2014 award to John Restivo and Dennis Halstead, whose convictions in the rape and murder of Lynbrook teenager Theresa Fusco were overturned after they had spent nearly 18 years in prison.

The administration wants to borrow $45 million to pay $36 million in damages as well as legal fees and interest.

But the plan could face opposition from Republicans and at least one member of the county’s financial control board because former County Executive Edward Mangano in 2016 set aside $45 million to cover the judgment after Democrats killed his request to borrow the money.

To appeal the award, the federal court required the county to either reserve cash in a bank account or put up a bond as proof it could pay.

Legislative Democrats — including Curran, who was then a Baldwin legislator — in July 2016 voted against borrowing. They argued that the county had enough money in reserves and a litigation fund to finance the award.

Because borrowing requires a supermajority of the legislature — 13 votes — Democrats blocked the plan even though all 11 Republicans voted in favor.

At the time Democrats also were voting against borrowing in an attempt to force Republicans to hire an inspector general to oversee county contracts.

Asked why the borrowing was needed now when the county had the cash in a bank account, Curran spokesman Michael Martino said, “The money was set aside in order to secure the right to appeal the case and now bonding would be used to support that cash.”

He declined to explain further and also declined to say whether the county expected to spend the cash for other purposes.

Borrowing requires approval of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board in control of the county’s books. A NIFA spokesman said the board would “consider” the borrowing request if the legislature approves it.

But NIFA member Chris Wright said NIFA “ceased approving borrowing for settlements some time ago, and while this is a meaningful settlement, I don’t see any reason to resume borrowing for operating costs.”

He said, “If the prior administration complied with the court order and segregated the funds, the current administration shouldn’t need to borrow those same funds.”

Deputy Presiding Officer Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said he had yet to make up his mind.

“I don’t know if NIFA will allow this,” he said. “Secondly, the Democrats have always been against this. This would be regressing, going back and borrowing for judgments . . . I think they feel this would solve a lot of budget issues if they could do that.”

Kopel said, “I’d like to hear more from the administration on how they will handle this.”

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