Nassau Republican legislators called Friday for state and county investigations into the office of County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, who only a week ago said at a news conference that a phishing scam resulted in his office losing $710,000 in public funds. The money was later recovered, but GOP lawmakers accused Schnirman’s office of a lack control of its operations, and warned that there may be other scams the public is unaware of. Schnirman said the Republicans were “playing politics.”
Legislator Howard Kopel, the deputy presiding officer and chairman of the Legislature’s finance committee, castigated Schnirman, a Democrat from Long Beach, and his office for having failed to protect the public. No Democrats were present at the news conference.
“The finance committee was alarmed” after Schnirman’s news conference on Jan. 11, according to Kopel. “We’re taking an unprecedented step in asking for an investigation” by State Comptroller Thomas Di Napoli and the office of the Inspector General of the County Comptroller’s office.
“We want to see if other [phishing] attempts have been made and that best practices are being maintained,” Kopel told reporters at at the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative Building in Mineola.
On Jan. 11, Schnirman, joined by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, announced the recovery of the $710,000 from a scammer pretending to be a county vendor. Schnirman’s office reported the scam to police and the Nassau County District Attorney’s office Oct. 25. But Kopel said he never reported it to the Legislature, and county lawmakers learned of it only through the news conference.
No arrests have been made. Police have said scammers also targeted three other municipalities. They did not name them.
Ryder said on Jan. 11 that the comptroller’s office received what turned out to be a fake email, fabricated to look like a county vendor and with different bank information.
Kopel said Schnirman’s office asked what he believed was a vendor for a blank check, which the vendor sent. But Kopel said the office did no further checking. The legislator said an employee at a bank, whose identity he said he did not know, spotted the transaction as suspicious and alerted Schnirman’s office.
Kopel and legislators Rose Marie Walker, who represents the 17th District, and Steven Rhoads, who represents the 19th, said the scam was only caught because the bank the county uses “flagged it as fraudulent.”
“No system put in place by the comptroller caught the fraud payments,” the three said in a prepared statement.
In a statement, Schnirman said, “Cyber attackers continually adapt, and we need to stay vigilant, as do all municipalities. From day one, our team has improved financial controls in Nassau County. We continue to enhance those controls and look to partner with leaders and experts to stay ahead of this threat. Instead of cynically playing politics with public safety, I encourage the Republican caucus to join me in working towards proactive solutions to protect taxpayers.”