There was a stunning revelation in the corruption trial that convicted Dean Skelos: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s favorite Republican, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, planned to “assert Fifth Amendment privilege” if called to testify about the AbTech contract, the prosecutor told the judge in a sidebar — and the feds were “not prepared to immunize” him.
AbTech is the Arizona-based environmental company that saw its financial struggles start to turn around in 2013 with a surprising $12 million public-works contract from Nassau County — after hiring Skelos’ son, Adam.
Mangano, by saying he’d take the Fifth, was asserting his fear that he’d incriminate himself if he answered prosecutors’ questions about the awarding of that contract.
This should’ve been front-page news on Long Island — particularly in the wake of allegations that federally indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh arranged and paid for some of Mangano’s vacation trips and comped him thousands of dollars of meals.
Plus, the guy Mangano has publicly called his “best friend,” First Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, did testify against Skelos. And while Walker received federal immunity for taking the stand on that case, he has no protection from other ongoing federal investigations involving Nassau County contracts for campaign donors and business pushed to a personal friend.
Finally, taped conversations between Skelos and Mangano, played at the trial, place the county executive in the mix of the AbTech scandal.
All this when Mangano’s administration is crumbling and the county’s finances are cratering.
A June 2014 report from the state comptroller suggested Nassau’s Industrial Development Authority skirts the law and grants sweetheart deals to the politically connected. The next month, an investigation by acting DA Madeline Singas concluded Nassau’s contracting process is a “recipe for corruption” because it’s not insulated “from improper influence, manipulation, collusion and fraud.”
A proposal like the AbTech deal, the DA observed, “illustrates a systemic failure of Nassau County’s procurement and contract management process to ward off corruption.”
As for Nassau’s finances, Mangano has brought the county to the edge of fiscal insolvency — and kept it there, even as homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the state. The county’s operating deficit, based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, was $189.2 million in fiscal year 2014 and is projected to hit $188.2 million in 2015, $211.4 million in 2016, $302.1 million in 2018 and in 2019, a staggering $351.3 million.
Sadly, the governor has contributed to this fiscal mess. To ingratiate himself with Mangano, Cuomo in 2013 appointed local political hack Jon Kaiman as chairman of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (a state control board on which I served as a director from 2010 to 2014) instead of appointing a municipal-finance expert.
Kaiman, who also gets paid $150,000 a year as Cuomo’s amorphous Long Island Sandy recovery czar, negotiated in 2014 what he called a cost-neutral wage settlement with Nassau’s public-employee unions. The ludicrous deal has actually driven the county deeper into the red to the tune of $70 million a year.
Coincidentally, after the dumbing-down of the financial control board, Republican Mangano endorsed Democrat Cuomo in his bid for a second gubernatorial term.
Because the agenda of Nassau’s special interests took precedence over the general public, the law is breathing down the neck of Mangano and his GOP confreres on multiple fronts. Mangano, government vendors, the county’s flawed bidding process and the financial records of Republican clubs are being investigated, separately or in related investigations.
Hence, to avoid further corruption, Cuomo’s award on Dec. 10 of about $50 million in capital grants and state tax credits to Nassau County for government and private-sector projects must be postponed until Mangano’s recommendations — like the $3 million for county-owned Nassau Hub infrastructure improvements and Grumman studios run by a Mangano donor — are vetted to ensure they weren’t driven by cronyism or campaign contributions.
While the mounting scandals might force Mangano to resign from office, his misguided and reckless decisions will have long-term consequences.
Current taxpayers, their children and grandchildren will be paying off the debt incurred to finance his hijinks for decades to come.
George J. Marlin’s latest book is “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A Twenty-First Century Tragedy.”