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Norma Gonsalves, Nassau legislative leader, sued over disclosures

Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the Nassau County

Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, is seen on Sept. 30, 2015. Gonsalves and Joseph Parisi, her former campaign treasurer, face penalties of up to $28,000 each for failing to file mandatory financial disclosure reports. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The enforcement attorney for the state Board of Elections has filed a lawsuit against Republican Norma Gonsalves, the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, for failing to file eight mandatory financial campaign disclosure reports between 2013 and 2015.

Gonsalves and Joseph Parisi, her former campaign treasurer, each face total penalties of up to $28,000.

Risa Sugarman, enforcement attorney for the board of elections, filed the suit Monday in State Supreme Court in Albany.

Newsday reported last year that Gonsalves violated state election laws at least 33 times between 2006 and 2015 by failing to disclose political donors and campaign expenses involving Friends for Norma Gonsalves, a previously unregistered campaign committee she controls.

In December, Sugarman issued a report accusing Gonsalves of 10 counts of failing to file campaign-finance disclosure reports between Jan. 15, 2013 and Jan. 15, 2015.

Frank Moroney, a spokesman for Gonsalves’ campaign committee, said Gonsalves would fight the lawsuit. He said the case represented a “a political witch hunt” and said Sugarman has a “long history of partisan political activity.”

“Fairness and equity demand that Legislator Gonsalves resort to legal action not only to protect her rights, but also to ensure that the state Board of Elections remains an impartial arbiter of our electoral processes, not the partisan arm of a single political party,” Moroney said.

Sugarman, a former Bronx assistant district attorney who served as deputy commissioner for the state Department of Taxation and Finance under Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and ran the Sex Offender Management Bureau under Cuomo when he served as state attorney general, declined to comment.

On Feb. 29, Elections Board hearing officer Sharon Miller issued a decision — a mandatory precursor to the board’s filing of a civil suit — which found Sugarman’s findings were “credible” and “uncontroverted by any evidence.”

Miller ruled that on eight occasions Gonsalves and Parisi failed to file disclosure reports in a timely manner. Each violation carries a $1,000 fine. Miller also determined that on two occasions Gonsalves and Parisi failed to file the required three campaign reports per election cycle. The fine is $10,000 for each violation.

John Ciampoli, an attorney representing the campaign committee, did not dispute the facts but said at most the violations amounted to mistakes. Ciampoli, a former Nassau County attorney, said Gonsalves was not aware of the disclosure problem until Newsday’s report and immediately brought the campaign account into compliance.

“This is not someone who was intentionally flaunting the law,” he said. “At most this rises to the level of a mistake.”

In court filings, Sugarman said, “there was a good-faith effort to correct the violations” only after they were made public in the media.

Republican elections attorney John Ryan told Newsday last year that Gonsalves was unable to figure out the filing process once she was required to report electronically in 2006.

The lawsuit notes that Ciampoli and the board of elections previously had begun settlement discussions but were unable to reach an agreement.

Note: An earlier version of this story misstated who Ciampoli represents.

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