News12/Newsday report: Nassau's open space purchases benefited insiders

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WOODBURY -

Many of the people who profited from a pair of environmental bond acts worth $150 million in Nassau County had ties to county leaders or an influential lobbying group, a Newsday/News 12 investigation has found.

In 2004 and again in 2006, Nassau voters approved a total of $150 million in environmental bonds. The county was supposed to use most of the money to buy open space and preserve it for the public benefit.

A Newsday analysis found that Nassau spent $30 million acquiring land from people who had ties to politicians or to the North Shore Land Alliance.

Those people included political power broker Gary Melius – a major campaign contributor to former County Executive Ed Mangano; Gordon Allan – a former Nassau employee appointed to his position by former County Executive Tom Suozzi; and Thomas Pulling – a North Shore banking executive who donated thousands to the North Shore Land Alliance.

Municipal law expert Paul Sabatino says the findings are not surprising.

“It’s a mentality on Long Island. People just think that if you can make the right connection with the right people, you can get the right outcome,” he said.

Even though the land was purchased using taxpayer funds, much of it is not easily accessible to the public.

One waterfront property that News 12 visited in Baldwin was preserved by the county in 2006. The property hardly looks like it was preserved as an open space. It is not easily accessible and is closed off with a rusty lock.

Many Nassau residents say since the public paid for it, they should be able to use it.

Lisa Ott, the president of the North Shore Land Alliance, says the preserved land will benefit Nassau for years to come. She also serves on the county committee that oversaw the property selection process. She says the committee's decisions were based solely on benefiting the public.

“It was open space, it was parks creation, it was storm water remediation, and brown field redevelopment,” said Ott. “The fact that there may be some overlap in members and contributors and things like that is really hard to avoid in a community as small as ours.”

Eddie Armstrong, an 83-year-old farmer in Lattingtown – one of the last working farms in Nassau County – is not buying that explanation. He says he never received an offer from the county.

Ott says the county was interested in Armstrong's property and even extended an offer to him. She was unable to provide documentation about the offer.

Armstrong insists it never happened.

“I got my hopes up so many times. I just got tired of it,” he told News 12.

Former Nassau Executive and current Rep. Suozzi declined News 12’s request for an interview. Rep. Suozzi released a statement that read, “In each instance, the amount paid for the properties were fair market value. This has enabled the county to protect its precious resources from development and environmental degradation."

A spokesman for Ed Mangano did not respond to News 12’s request for comment.

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