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Nassau lawmakers approve $23 million in borrowing for judgment

Nassau County has until Feb. 7, 2018, to

Nassau County has until Feb. 7, 2018, to comply with a court order to pay the settlement with Dennis Halstead, left, and John Restivo, both seen in 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Nassau County lawmakers approved borrowing $23 million — half of what Democratic County Executive Laura Curran requested — to partially fund a $45 million court judgment for two men prosecuted in Nassau for rape and murder but later exonerated.

Lawmakers, calling the figure a compromise, approved the measure in a 13-6 vote Monday evening. The other $22 million is to be drawn from money set aside by the previous county administration, said Michael Martino, Curran’s spokesman.

County lawmakers have been at odds over how to spend the funds, but not over their responsibility to pay the judgment. The county has until Wednesday to comply with the ruling. Borrowing requires 13 votes.

The county’s Office of Legislative Budget Review estimated that the $45 million, 15-year bond issue would have included $11.5 million in interest charges.

Nassau Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said “we feel more comfortable with $23 million,” and noted that legislators wanted to meet Curran’s concerns about “cash flow and potential rating issues if this bonding was not authorized.”

Nicolello said in an interview after the meeting that a deal was hammered out earlier in the day with Curran’s office.

Martino said in a statement, “We appreciate this bipartisan action by the legislature.”

A spokesman for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board with power over county finances, declined to comment.

Minority leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said “$23 million is a compromise. It’s headed in the right direction.”

The Nassau County Rules Committee had voted Jan. 22 to borrow $45 million to fund the judgment to Dennis Halstead and John Restivo, who had served 18 years in prison for their convictions for the 1984 rape and murder of Theresa Fusco, 16, of Lynbrook.

DNA evidence exonerated them, and a third defendant, John Kogut. They were released in 2003 and sued the county but Kogut was excluded from the civil trial. In 2014, Halstead and Restivo won $36 million in damages plus legal fees.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear Nassau’s appeal.

Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore), said he voted against the borrowing because he didn’t receive an adequate explanation as to why it was necessary.

Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, a lawyer for the men, declined to comment.

Also Monday, legislative committees approved the appointment of Acting Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Curran’s pick for the permanent post.

Committees also approved legislation that would require Nassau police to ask those arrested on nonviolent charges whether they had served in the armed forces, to more easily direct such cases to the county’s Veterans Treatment Court. The full legislature must approve those appointments and legislation.

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