Sandy contractors lavish LI pol with campaign cash

Sandy contractors lavished LI politican with campaign cash after getting cleanup work

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- First came the flood. Then came the deluge of campaign contributions.

A group of companies that got big contracts to do emergency cleanup work on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy showered a key public official with campaign contributions in the months after they were hired.

In the 11 weeks following the storm, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano reaped at least $144,000 in donations from companies his administration hired to cut trees, repair infrastructure and haul debris, according to an Associated Press analysis of campaign finance and county records.

At least 23 companies that got storm contracts gave money to Mangano's campaign in the weeks following their hiring, the records indicated. Many of the companies were hired under emergency executive order and got the work without having to bid against competitors.

Most of those companies, plus at least a dozen more that got Sandy work, had also given heavily in the past to Mangano's campaign or to allied political organizations. For example, executives and business entities affiliated with Laser Industries, a construction company hired to do up to $6 million in storm restoration work, have given at least $270,000 to New York politicians in the past seven years, mostly to Long Island Republicans. Of that, $24,900 has gone to Mangano and $75,600 to the Nassau County Republican Committee.

A spokesman for Mangano's campaign, Brian Nevin, said in an email that it did not actively solicit contributions from cleanup companies and there was nothing illegal about the donations.

"Hundreds of business owners and residents support County Executive Mangano for his policies, which include holding the line on property taxes for three straight years," he said.

Asked whether the contributions created the appearance of impropriety, Nevin said such questions were "leading, offensive and we will not dignify them with a response."

Nevertheless, the county's handling of Sandy contracts has attracted scrutiny. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent subpoenas to seven county departments Tuesday seeking documents related to storm debris and tree removal operations.

A law enforcement official said the attorney general's probe was focused on how "certain contracts and purchase orders" were awarded after Sandy and how contractors performed under those contracts. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the incomplete investigation and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

Nevin said Mangano had instructed department administrators to cooperate with the investigation.

Among the records requested were documents related to Looks Great Services, a landscaping and debris hauling contractor that was awarded emergency purchase orders worth up to $70 million in the months after the storm— by far the largest amount of work given to any company.

The company's president, Kristian Agoglia, gave $1,500 to Mangano's campaign on Nov. 26, a few weeks after his company began work, and then on Jan. 10 gave another $15,000 for a campaign golf outing. Looks Great also gave $10,745 to Mangano's campaign in early 2012.

A spokesman for the company, Dave Arnold, said any notion that it had tried to buy influence was "preposterous."

"Yes, he's made some low-dollar donations," Arnold said. But he added that the company, a veteran of disaster response operations in several states, was picked only because of a solid track record and competitive costs. "Looks Great was the only Long Island firm with the expertise and equipment to get the job done," he said. He noted that the contract activated after the storm had been in place since 2011.

Of the roughly $473,000 that Mangano's campaign has raised since the storm struck, at least 30 percent has come from Sandy contractors, executives at those companies, or related business entities.

A number of other Sandy contractors gave similar amounts to Mangano's campaign in the months after the storm.

Executives and business entities associated with Edgewood Industries, an operator of wood chippers, gave $11,500. A corporation registered at the same address as the concrete company Nicolia Ready Mix gave $10,000. The road construction firm Grace Industries and its owner gave $15,612. The owner of the sanitation firm Dejana Industries gave $12,576. Two officials with Laser Industries gave $13,000.

Not every company that gave had Long Island roots. Brooks Wallace, whose Mississippi company Debristech was given a $1 million contract to provide technology to help the county track its debris operation, gave $15,000 to Mangano's campaign in December.

No one from any of those companies returned phone calls and emails from the AP this week.

Nevin declined to answer questions about those donations, except to say that several of the large contributions, listed as "in kind" donations on the campaign's public filings, were tickets to a golf outing. He wouldn't say where or when that outing took place, or whether Mangano played.

Bill Mahoney, of the good government group NYPIRG, said the donations were "evidence of a pay-to-play system" endemic in the state, in which companies seeking government work or favorable legislation feel that a big donation timed just right is a way to influence government.

"The overlap between donations" and benefits to the companies, he said, "is way too closely correlated."

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