Editorial: Political loyalty trumps good government

It’s nice to have friends — especially when you are facing 54 months in jail.

Count Gerard Terry among the lucky ones.

Attorneys for the former North Hempstead Democratic Party chairman recently filed more than 100 letters testifying to Terry’s character in hopes of securing a more lenient punishment for failing to pay nearly $1 million in federal taxes and lying about it.

Among the letter writers were more than 20 attorneys, personal friends and a dozen current and former public officials.

The public officials included Congressman Thomas Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive; state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; former LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel, who was recently appointed to head the county IDA; town Councilwomen Lee Seeman and Viviana Russell; Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender; former Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, and former state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel.

All the officials are Democrats, most if not all of whom received Terry’s support in running for office.

Of such support friendships often flourish. This is obviously good for the candidates but perhaps not so good for the public.

Prosecutors said that while serving as the Town of North Hempstead Democratic party chair Terry failed to file income tax returns from 2000 to 2015, thus failing to pay nearly $1 million in federal income taxes.

They also said Terry “routinely provided false, misleading and incomplete information” to the Internal Revenue Service, once created a checking account in the name of a corporate nominee to conceal income, and “pressured colleagues and subordinates to not comply with IRS notices of levy.”

Terry had earned his money during this time the old-fashioned way — by getting government jobs that paid him about $250,000 a year. And that does not include his wife’s job with the Town of North Hempstead.

“Over the course of fifteen years, based on sources of income known to the government, Terry evaded more than $992,057 in federal income taxes, accumulating a federal tax debt of approximately $1.4 million,” prosecutors said in recently filed court papers. “He did this deliberately, intentionally and habitually, all while serving as a Democratic Party boss and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in government work.”

At one time or another, Terry worked for eight municipalities, including Nassau County, the Town of North Hempstead, where he held two posts – Board of Zoning Appeals attorney and special counsel to the town attorney’s office – and the Village of Manorhaven.

At the time of his arrest in December 2016, he had six municipal jobs.

Was Terry the best-qualified person for all eight jobs?

You might say that depends on your definition of “best qualified.” If one of those qualifications was to get officials re-elected then he certainly fits the bill.

But a person who owes the federal government $1 million just might not be the best person to help decide the fate of things like real estate developments.

Unanswered in the federal complaint was the identity of colleagues and subordinates that federal prosecutors said were “pressured … to not comply with IRS notices of levy” issued against Terry.

As far as we can tell, there has been no inquiry by any of the eight municipalities into whether they failed to comply with the IRS notices and, if so, who was responsible.

Why not?

This appears to be a case of political loyalty and personal gain trumping good government and the best interests of the public.

Sadly, this lack of accountability appears to be part of a pattern that continues to this day.

In February, we reported that Robert Troiano, a Democrat who served first as director of operations for the town and then as a senior policy adviser, had failed to acknowledge on financial disclosure forms $81,533 in federal income tax liens he amassed between 2010 and 2014 as well as a $749,264 lien against a house he owns that was facing foreclosure.

The town updated its code of ethics after Terry was arrested. The code now calls for fines of up to $10,000 for filing false information.

Is the town going to seek a penalty against Troiano? Don’t hold your breath.

Troiano’s financial problems were not made public until he left the town to join Laura Curran’s administration in January as the county’s acting commissioner for traffic and parking violations.

Curran and her administration appeared to be unaware of Troiano’s tax liens at the time of his appointment. But somehow Republicans in the county Legislature, where Troiano served before joining the town, knew. They planned to question him about the loans.

Troiano withdrew his nomination before he would face any questions about a job that would have paid him $155,000 a year.

He then took a job paying $140,000 a year at the county Board of Elections —  one of the places where Terry had worked.

We’re surprised no one wrote a letter opposing the pay cut.

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The Island Now

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