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Tax breaks and political ties at the Nassau IDA; Updated

Joseph Cairo, president of the Nassau Off-track Betting

Joseph Cairo, president of the Nassau Off-track Betting Corp. in his Hempstead office on July 22, 2011. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Sometimes it seems like a small, small world in Nassau County.

Consider the connections in just one deal done by the Nassau Industrial Development Agency on Tuesday night.

The IDA board agreed unanimously to give property tax and sales tax breaks for the expansion of South Shore Honda in Valley Stream, a car dealership represented by lawyer Lisa Cairo.

Cairo is the daughter of Joseph Cairo, who heads the county’s Off-track Betting Corp. and is second in command of the Nassau Republican party. Joseph Cairo also is the North Valley Stream Republican leader.

Although state law forbids tax breaks for retailers, the dealership deal falls under the law’s “tourist destination exemption” because 50 percent of its business comes from Queens, IDA executive director Joseph Kearney explained.

Kearney, an attorney and former Hempstead Town Board member, is a good friend of Joseph Cairo, a lawyer who served with Kearney on the Hempstead Town Board more than 20 years ago. When Joseph Cairo was disbarred in 1994 for diverting client funds, Kearney stepped in to handle some of the remaining legal work. Joseph Cairo has since regained his law license.

The IDA’s counsel is Ed Ambrosino, a Joseph Cairo protege who succeeded Kearney on the Hempstead Town Board. Ambrosino also took over some cases during Joseph Cairo’s legal problems.

According to Newsday business reporter James T. Madore, the IDA provided South Shore Honda a $43,000 sales-tax exemption on the purchase of construction materials and equipment, and a 12-year break on property taxes that freezes them at current levels for three years followed by 2 percent increases in each of the next nine years.

After seeing Newsday's story, Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs called to suggest, facetiously, that if a car dealership qualifies for the "tourist destination" exemption, then his summer camp in Glen Cove is entitled to similar tax breaks.

"I own a business here. My property taxes are way high. I get campers at my camp from Queens. That makes me a tourist destination," Jacobs said. "I am politically connected so I guess I qualify for IDA benefits."



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