Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Emily Pines has rescinded her 2013 approval of a $90,000 payment to Nassau Independence Party leader Richard Bellando for managing a commercial property in foreclosure because it violated court rules that bar party leaders from such court appointments.
Pines' ruling, issued Thursday, does not require Bellando to pay the money back. Pines noted that the "refusal" of Evan Krinick, the attorney representing the lender, to ask for the money back was "particularly interesting," leaving her with limited authority to order its return.
Pines' decision follows Newsday reports last month that she and Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan awarded more than $900,000 to Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius and five associates, including Bellando, for overseeing properties in foreclosure.
The judges appointed them to serve as property managers or receivers -- which are essentially temporary landlords -- and then failed to report to the state those appointments and the fees they approved, as required. Pines found that Bellando is "prohibited from acting as a property manager in a court proceeding in this state and was prohibited from charging for and receiving compensation" through the court appointment process.
Bellando did not return a call for comment.
Pines presided over one of the four receiverships detailed in Newsday's reports: The Whitman Atrium in Huntington Station, which was in receivership from March 2012 through April 2013.
Records show that when Pines approved the payments to Bellando, she never signed a court order, as required, to appoint him property manager.
Instead, the receiver appointed in the case, Ronald Rosenberg, sent an email to Pines asking that he be allowed to hire Bellando. That correspondence was not placed in the court file.
Bellando is Melius' former son-in-law and has been chief operating officer at Oheka Castle, Melius' North Shore estate. Rosenberg is Melius' longtime personal attorney.
Rosenberg and Krinick each said through spokesmen that they had not seen Pines' decision so could not comment.
Despite the court rule barring party leaders from court appointments, state court administrators added Bellando to an approved list of property managers before Rosenberg hired him.
Records show that when he applied to be placed on the state list in August 2011, Bellando checked a box indicating that he was not a party leader, but also included a resume that said he was the Nassau Independence Party's executive director.
In an interview in early October, Pines acknowledged that she had made mistakes in the Huntington Station receivership and said she would reopen the case to fix any failures to comply with state court rules.
At the hearing Pines held Oct. 15, Rosenberg criticized Newsday's coverage of the receiverships and urged Pines not to order Bellando to return the money. "It would be a travesty of justice," Rosenberg said. "It would be giving in to the people who write misstatements and half-truths."
Rosenberg said it was an "inadvertent, innocent mistake" that Bellando swore he was not a party leader on his property manager application. Bellando did not attend the hearing.
The plaintiff's attorney, Krinick, is a managing partner at Rivkin Radler, a politically connected Long Island firm. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who is Melius' political ally, joined the firm in 2001 and worked there until he stepped down after his election in 2009.
Krinick said during Pines' hearing that his client was pleased with Rosenberg's performance as receiver and had reviewed all expenses before Rosenberg paid them from the property's account.
"My client has no interest whatsoever in recovery of the monies," Krinick said.