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Nassau County vets promotion funds went to private group

A Suffolk marketing executive, linked to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in a reported exchange of sexually suggestive texts, helped promote a 2013 county fundraiser that was touted as helping veterans, but the checks went to a private group whose records have been subpoenaed by federal investigators.

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos said Friday that the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York had subpoenaed his office in October for records relating to the private not-for-profit group — Friends of Nassau County Recreation — but he did not know what investigators were looking for.

Karin Murphy Caro, president of BluChip Marketing, and Mangano have denied exchanging sexually suggestive text messages. Both say they had been hacked. Police are investigating. Separately, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas has subpoenaed documents relating to $48,500 in no-bid contracts that Caro had with the county.

Caro told Newsday last week that one of the events she helped promote as part of her duties under the two county contracts — both just under the $25,000 threshold for legislative approval — was the Field of Honor, for which she purchased and installed 1,500 American flags in front of the county executive building.

Although Field of Honor took place from October 2013 through November 2013, when neither of Caro’s contracts were in effect, she promoted the fundraiser on her website and said all proceeds would go to veterans and veterans groups.

A county flier about the event said “purchase a flag for $35 to honor a veteran.” But the flier also directs that checks are to be made out to Friends of Nassau Recreation and sent to an accountant in the county parks department.

Caro could not be reached for comment. Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said Friday the county was gathering information about the flag donations and where the money had been spent but had yet to receive answers Friday afternoon.

Jeffrey Carpenter, a Friends director, said he didn’t know specific details about the veterans tribute, “but it’s my understanding that it operated at a loss and there were no proceeds to distribute.”

Ward said he wasn’t aware of the federal investigation of the Friends group and Carpenter said he didn’t know the nature or subject of the probe.

Questions have been raised about Friends of Nassau County Recreation for years. The mission of the nonprofit created in 1980 was to benefit the parks department. Nearly every department activity requires payment to the group. Yet the Friends agreement to operate on behalf of the county expired in 2012 and Maragos said in a February 2013 audit that the group’s record-keeping was so poor that he could not determine whether money was missing.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) had asked Maragos last May for another audit when county officials said a vendor donated artificial turf for a ball field built at Cantiague Park through Friends of Nassau Recreation. By state law, the county legislature is supposed to approve all gifts to the county, but donations to the Friends, a nonprofit, effectively bypass that requirement.

When Jacobs inquired last week about the status of the audit, Maragos said his investigators had stopped their review. “On October 13, 2015, the Comptroller’s Office received a subpoena from the Eastern District of New York for records pertaining to Friends of Nassau County [Recreation]. Understanding that the U.S. attorney’s office was investigating ... we decided not to proceed with the Comptroller’s audit in order not to interfere with their investigation,” Maragos wrote in an email.

Maragos told Jacobs he had provided federal prosecutors with all records relating to Friends, including old contracts, his audit and the expired memorandum of agreement.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney declined to comment. There is no indication that the Field of Honor money was targeted for review.

Maragos spokesman Jostyn Hernandez said the comptroller has asked the parks department whether any new operating agreement had been signed between Nassau and the Friends group but had not received a response. Carpenter said Friends is “in the process of obtaining” a new agreement.

Jacobs said she was concerned about the donations going to a group such as Friends. “The problem with this type of action is there is no paper trail. There is no way to follow the money. It raises all kinds of question marks. That money was supposed to go to veterans. Who is keeping track of that?”

Carpenter said he was “disappointed” with the legislator’s comments. He said Friends of Nassau County Recreation has partnered for decades with both Republican and Democratic administrations, “providing essential support to the Parks Department’s programs. Friends board members are volunteers who receive no compensation, and the support which Friends provides to the Parks Department programs is at no expense to the taxpayers.”

The last available IRS return filed by Friends, and signed by Carpenter, was for 2013, records show. It says the group raised $1.7 million and spent $1.755 million, leaving $361,359 in the bank.

Although there are no specific expenses or creditors listed, the form reports spending $132,854 on advertising and promotion, $40,629 on travel, $179,614 on talent, $179,396 for catering, $152,502 for giveaways, $108,524 for race staging (the group promotes the Long Island Marathon) and $947,190 in “other expenses.”

Those other expenses include $75,567 for consulting, $72,781 for expense reimbursement, $55,265 for race management and $28,664 for refreshments.

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