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Ethics complaint filed against Long Beach council members

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013.

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013. Credit: Tara Conry

A former Long Beach City Council president filed an ethics complaint Monday against three current council members, alleging that they violated the city's ethics code by accepting free legal services from a law firm that later landed a contract with the city.

The claims by James Hennessy, spokesman for the city's Republican Party, center on a 2011 lawsuit filed by Democrats Len Torres, Scott Mandel, Fran Adelson and then-council member Michael Fagen aimed at keeping the former acting police commissioner from receiving termination pay of $500,000.

The council members were represented by Uniondale law firm Harris Beach, which Hennessy alleges provided its services for free to the council members, who then voted in 2012 to hire Harris Beach to form the city's local development corporation. Such a gift would violate the city's ethics code, Hennessy said.

In an interview, Hennessy said that the three council members "violated the code of ethics in that they didn't disclose this personal relationship that they had with this firm."

City officials were quick to condemn Hennessy's charge, but said they would need time to fully digest it.

Mandel said Hennessy's allegations were a distraction from the city's task of rebuilding from superstorm Sandy. Attempts to reach Adelson and Torres were not successful.

"We invite him to put aside his bias and agenda, and to lend a hand to our city and his neighbors as we continue to work together to rebuild," Mandel said in a statement.

Hennessy said he was not focusing on Fagen, who was removed from his seat in February after being convicted of charges related to his illegal collection of unemployment benefits, although Hennessy's complaint letter asks the ethics board to investigate Fagen's conduct as well.

A call to Harris Beach was not returned Monday.

City Manager Jack Schnirman, a Democratic appointee, said Harris Beach was chosen because of its experience in setting up development corporations.

"I realize that silly season is taking off, but my job is to focus on the city's physical and fiscal recovery without distraction," Schnirman said in a statement, referring to the upcoming race for three council seats, including Mandel's.

Michael Zapson, Long Beach's Democratic chairman, called Hennessy's charges "completely without merit" and "ridiculous."

Zapson said that the lawsuit by Mandel, Torres and Adelson was intended to block payouts to city Republicans.

Hennessy also filed a complaint with Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office Monday against the three council members. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said Monday the office is reviewing the allegations.

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