Mineola, NY - July 9, 2015 - Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas today released a report exposing troubling deficiencies in Nassau County’s contracting process and recommended wide-ranging reforms to insulate the process from improper influence, manipulation, collusion, and fraud. The report stems from an ongoing review of Nassau’s contracts and contracting process that Acting DA Singas’ office began in April.
“When it comes to government contracts, the honor system just doesn’t cut it,” Acting DA Singas said. “Nassau’s antiquated contracting process is a recipe for corruption and it’s critical that our leaders take immediate action to modernize and fortify this broken system.”
Acting DA Singas uncovered troubling problems with Nassau’s contracting process. Among them:
• The County’s contracting process does not require vendors to comprehensively disclose subsidiary companies, criminal convictions, tax law compliance, liens, judgments, political contributions, or whether a vendor is barred from government contracts in other jurisdictions.
• The County has no credible process to verify self-disclosed information provided by prospective vendors.
• The DA’s ongoing review of individual contracts has already identified a contractor with ties to a convicted bid-rigger linked to organized crime, a multi-contract recipient with multiple tax warrants, a contractor barred from government business in another jurisdiction on integrity grounds, and a convicted felon with a bankruptcy—all permitted to work for Nassau County under current policies.
• Always-insufficient oversight has been further degraded by the effective elimination of the offices of Deputy County Executive for Compliance and Commissioner of Investigations, which even prior to their elimination lacked independence from political influence.
• Unchecked discretion leaves the County vulnerable to action on unsolicited proposals driven not by need but by the influence of lobbyists and those who would profit from county business.
• The County maintains no central database of contracts or vendors with key information such as their manner of procurement, type, or subject matter. Even a cursory review necessitates a review of voluminous paper files, dispersed across multiple county offices, making comprehensive audits and oversight laborious and impractical.
• Nassau’s vendor registration and disclosure requirements are woefully inadequate, requiring only the most basic information required by state statute. Though County Executive Mangano’s recent executive orders regarding lobbying mark a significant step forward, Nassau still requires a small fraction of the information that New York City’s VENDEX system collects.
• Public officials’ annual financial disclosure statements are collected in hard copy, and not comprehensively and routinely cross-checked against vendors or potential vendors leaving even the most obvious, disclosed conflicts potentially undiscovered.
To modernize and fortify the contracting process, Acting DA Singas’ report recommends that the County:
• Establish an independent County Inspector General, appointed by the County Executive and subject to confirmation by a supermajority of the County Legislature, to serve a four-year term, with separate budget and staff, removable only for cause.
• Take immediate action to develop and implement a technological platform for the comprehensive integrated tracking of contracts, vendors, and public officers’ financial disclosure forms.
• Comprehensively enhance vendor screening protocols by local law to require disclosure of key integrity information, modeled after New York City’s exhaustive system.
• Streamline submission of financial disclosure forms by public officers and employees, requiring electronic submission of financial information beyond the minimum requirements set forth by the New York State General Municipal Law.
• Annually review procurement policies as required by the General Municipal Law and annually train all departmental procurement officials to ensure proper protocols are observed.• Identify bottlenecks in the contracting process to speed approval and eliminate the need for urgent work to begin prior to final contract approval.
• Regardless of dollar amount, the County Legislature and a new County Inspector General should review any instance of an unsolicited proposal being ultimately awarded to the vendor who proposed it.
“Senior attorneys and investigators in my office are comprehensively reviewing contracts for illegality, undisclosed relationships, and misrepresentations or omissions by county contractors,” Acting DA Singas said. “I will prosecute any crimes our review uncovers, and I am eager to work with county leaders to improve the broken contracting process that necessitated this review.”
The investigation team is also vetting contractors’ criminal backgrounds, checking for unpaid taxes, cross-referencing barred contractor lists from other jurisdictions, and searching for other factors that may disqualify contractors. Investigators are directing special attention to contracts that began as unsolicited proposals, as well as those that narrowly escape legislative scrutiny by falling just shy of the $25,000 threshold, and contracts that evade NIFA approval by sliding in just below the $50,000 threshold.
The District Attorney’s review is ongoing. Anyone with information regarding government contract corruption is encouraged to contact the District Attorney’s Public Corruption Bureau.