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Newsday :: April 3, 2007

Taken for a ride?

Brookhaven vehicle chief gave $1.4M in auto repair contracts to shops that donated to his son's campaign

BYLINE: ERIK GERMAN. STAFF CORRESPONDENT

The man in charge of fixing Brookhaven's cars, trucks and tractors gave $1.4 million worth of town business during four years to repair shops that donated to his son's Suffolk County legislative campaigns.

In nine repair accounts overseen by vehicle control chief Victor Losquadro, town records show that 80 percent of the money Brookhaven spent between 2003 and 2006 went to firms that contributed to Legis. Daniel Losquadro. The companies gave his campaign nearly $40,000 during that time.

Brookhaven Supervisor Brian Foley called the findings "alarming" and said Victor Losquadro was removed from his post in January because of other concerns the town had about his financial management of the department. Town officials said they have referred the campaign finance matter to District Attorney Thomas Spota, who so far has declined comment.

"Obviously it's a very troubling finding," said Foley, a Democrat, describing Newsday's review of town invoices and campaign records obtained under freedom of information laws. "What the perception will be, rightly or wrongly, is that once again there's a problem in Brookhaven."

Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham) vigorously insisted that repair shops were never pressured to give campaign donations, nor were they promised town work for doing so. "I couldn't even tell you who's on any town repair list," he said.

Losquadro added that the decades his father spent in the auto repair business before taking a town job in 1999 explain why so many contributors come from that field. "It's the industry you've been around and your family knows, and those people believe in me and want to support me," he said. "I can't imagine anybody would even imply there's any nefarious intent there."

Victor Losquadro did not respond to repeated messages left over three days seeking comment.

The owners of several repair shops who contributed to Daniel Losquadro agreed. "I have a long-standing relationship with Danny," said William Hartion, owner of Royal Collision in Mount Sinai, which town invoices show did $54,878 worth of auto body repairs for Brookhaven between 2003 and 2006.

"If the town kicked me off their list tomorrow, I would still support that guy," Hartion said.

But some Democrats said they suspect otherwise. "It sounds to me like Victor Losquadro has been taking Brookhaven taxpayers for a ride," Suffolk Democratic Party chair Richard Schaffer said.

Some shop owners said contributing to town and county campaigns is a widely known cost of doing business with Brookhaven.

"We'd get a little work, then we'd get things in the mail that so-and-so was running for some office," said Chris Pikoulas, owner of Miller Place Auto Electric. "Me and my brother would just shake our heads."

Since 2003, his shop has given $690 to the Friends of Dan Losquadro, and Brookhaven has spent $31,898 there. As recently as a few years ago, Pikoulas said a town employee - not Victor Losquadro - would appear at his shop twice annually to solicit donations for various candidates. "He would actually show up here with an envelope," Pikoulas said. "He used to look over his shoulder before he walked in the door."

One Lindenhurst transmission shop, a contributor that once did almost $50,000 in yearly business with Brookhaven, suddenly stopped getting work after a non-contributor bought the shop in 2006. "It was kind of obvious that Victor Losquadro was going out of his way to keep this contract from us," said Mark Wedlock, the new owner, who unsuccessfully sued Brookhaven last year to reinstate his contact. "Anybody could put two and two together."

The nine town accounts where the largest percentage of work went to Losquadro contributors included those for repairing radiators, auto bodies, windshields, heavy equipment and lawn mowers. According to town officials, Victor Losquadro had broad discretion for contracting professional services such as insurance appraisals and for renewing long-standing contracts. He also controlled the accounts as the sole departmental signer of purchase orders.

While those orders were subject to approval by the town's purchasing department, an independent audit released last month by Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Co. found that its internal checks were not being followed consistently.

For example, small purchases - such as many of the repairs overseen by Victor Losquadro - were made according to a manager's discretion, although they often added up to tens of thousands of dollars for a single vendor. Supervisor Foley has called it a system "ripe" for abuse.

Town Deputy Supervisor Jack Schnirman said Losquadro was pulled from his vehicle control post in January and made a secretary at Brookhaven Calabro Airport. Schnirman cited excessive waiting periods for vehicle repairs and "problems with purchasing" among reasons for Losquadro's removal.

Last year, the administration asked Losquadro to consider putting the repeated small-scale purchases out to bid or seeking requests for proposals. He declined, saying it would delay repairs, and wrote in a March 7 memo, "I do not see how RFP's would benefit or protect the town."