All Things Political: High cost of GOP corruption in Nassau

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From the arrests and convictions of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos, in early May 2015, to the indictment of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and his wife, Linda Mangano, during late October last year, rampant political corruption, among elected Nassau County Republican officials, has become national news.

Throw in more recent events, like the March 31, 2017 arrest of Town of Hempstead Councilman Ed Ambrosino and the June 29, 2017 indictments of Former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, along with seven of his cronies, Nassau County Republican politicians have become synonymous with corruption.

​If you are longing for the good old days, fantasizing about a time when politics were simpler, more open and honest, that’s just not the case.

According to fivethirtyeight.com, a website dedicated to statistical analysis, New York has the highest number of public officials in the country convicted of corruption, a total of 2,522 from 1976-2010.

It’s clear New York (in general), and Nassau County (in specific), have a long legacy of politicians stealing from the people.

​What most Nassau residents don’t realize is the additional financial burden this places on an already highly taxed community.

According to writers Liu and Makesell, in their 2014 article, published in the journal Public Administration Review: “Corruption increased state spending over the period 1997–2008. During that time, the 10 most corrupt states could have reduced their total annual expenditure by an average of $1,308 per capita — 5.2 percent of the mean per capita state expenditure — if corruption had been at the average level of the states.”

With New York ranking highest in convictions, one can surmise corruption has cost taxpayers at least $5,232 yearly for a family of four, and that’s just the amount to bring it down to average state corruption in America.

​According to these calculations, former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and his seven alleged co-conspirators have literally cost taxpayers a fortune.

One of these seven, Fredrick Ippolito, died while serving a sentence in prison for tax evasion on $2 million of income received from outside consulting fees, paid by the Lizza family companies.

Other indirect costs of corruption in the Town of Oyster Bay include: the cost of government inefficiency as many contractors won’t bid on projects knowing they have no shot unless they are willing to “pay to play;” the legal costs involved in prosecuting corruption; and the lost jobs, associated tax revenue and economic activity from businesses who either left the Town of Oyster Bay or wouldn’t locate there because of the tainted political reputation. The total direct and indirect costs from these eight indictments easily exceed $10 million.

Mangano, excluding the lavish vacations and expensive gifts he received for steering business to the currently indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh, allegedly used his position to extract $450,000 in pay for his wife Linda in a no-show job as “food taster.” Singh, always short on funding, should have used that money to run his crumbling empire. Instead, he chose not to pay employees and to stiff vendors who would have in turn used their pay and revenue to further stimulate the economy. The cost of prosecuting this case will be similar to those in the Town of Oyster Bay.

​Town of Hempstead Councilman Ed Ambrosino was indicted on tax evasion for failing to pay $250,000 he owed on diverted income of $800,000 from Ruskin Moscou Faltischek on pay he received as head of the Nassau County IDA (appointed to that position by indicted Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano). Inclusive of the cost of lost tax revenue by the alleged fraud are millions of tax dollars wasted on ill-advised Nassau County Industrial Development Agency tax breaks to companies that shouldn’t have received them. Throw in court costs and this malfeasance cost taxpayers untold millions of dollars.

​The only elected Nassau County Republican of this group convicted so far is former New York State Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos’ son Adam worked with Abtech, a producer of sponge filters for pollutants, to procure a $12 million Nassau County contract using his father’s connections, in return for almost $200,000 in compensation.

The familiar story here is non-competitive bidding on prearranged contracts created from bribes. Without competitive contract bidding, taxpayers are forced to pay more for contracts, and the pay to play mentality in Nassau, that makes it impossible to compete, turns off future vendors.

​Ethics reforms on the state level such as term-limits, getting rid of the LLC loophole for special interest donations and limits on outside income of New York State legislators have been stymied by the New York State Senate Republicans. On the county level an Independent Inspector General to review contracts, which would mitigate corruption and government waste, has been blocked by the Nassau County Republicans.

The Republican run Town of Hempstead has recently changed the IDA board but town level ethics reform in Hempstead and in the Republican stronghold Town of Oyster Bay are non-existent.

The next time Nassau County Republicans try to sell you their fiction that they haven’t raised your taxes, just laugh in their general direction, because there is no doubt we are all footing the bill for their ill gotten gains.

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