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SCCC considers hiring Nassau law firm to probe 'breach of confidentiality'

Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood on

Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood on April 18, 2013. Credit: Ed Betz

Trustees of Suffolk County Community College are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to hire a law firm for an ethics probe of an alleged "breach of confidentiality."

The vote comes after the county ethics commission declined to take up the matter. Trustees at a meeting in Selden will consider a resolution to hire Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney & Spector in Roslyn, one of two firms that responded to a college request for proposals.

College spokesman Drew Biondo said the firm would "do an examination of the confidentiality issue previously raised by the board and any other matter that arises." Biondo said the firm would not have "a long-term relationship. It's for this one issue."

The controversy arose in June when college counsel Louis Petrizzo brought the alleged breach of confidentiality to Paul Pontieri, personnel committee chair. Without a board vote, Pontieri spent $5,000 on a private investigator to probe the incident. In September, trustees decided to send the issue to the county board of ethics. Petrizzo said the ethics panel, which has declined to comment, subsequently informed the college that the issue was outside its jurisdiction.

The alleged ethics violation surfaced publicly during the investigator's probe in August. At the time, Biondo acknowledged the inquiry dealt with a "breach of confidentiality," but declined to provide details or identify anyone involved. He said only that college president Shaun McKay was not part of the inquiry.

While no one has been publicly targeted, trustee chairwoman Dafny Irizarry, who has clashed with McKay, has exited several executive board meetings where the breach was discussed. Irizarry also did not attend the governance committee meeting at which the law firm's hiring was recommended, Biondo said. Irizarry did not return calls for comment.

One of the law firm's partners, Steven Leventhal, was counsel to the Suffolk Ethics Commission during a lengthy battle between the county legislature and former County Executive Steve Levy, which led to an overhaul of the agency, renamed the Board of Ethics in 2012. Leventhal also served as chairman of the Nassau Board of Ethics from 1996 to 2002 and later as its counsel.

The Leventhal firm has agreed to charge $225 an hour for work by a partner and $200 an hour for an associate, Biondo said. The other firm, which Biondo declined to name until after the board vote Thursday, had wanted $595 an hour for a partner, and from $250 to $405 for an associate. Biondo said there is no cap on legal expenditures. The law firm did not return calls for comment.

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