Law Firm Tabbed to Monitor Operations at NYRA

Law Firm Tabbed to Monitor Operations at NYRA
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A Manhattan law firm with broad investigative experience has been named by a federal judge to oversee the finances and operations of the New York Racing Association to ensure it is in compliance with an oversight process ordered last year by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Federal District Court Judge Arthur Spatt on March 2 named Getnick & Getnick as NYRA's inspector general, a post with expansive powers to monitor spending and management practices at the racing association. The firm's lawyers include former federal prosecutors and a criminal court judge.

The firm was named by New York City to serve as one of four integrity monitors to oversee recovery and clean-up operations at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The firm was recommended by the U.S. Attorney's office, which conducted the investigation that led to criminal charges against NYRA and former officials last year. Besides a $3-million fine, NYRA also agreed to have it operations overseen by a monitor for a 16-month period.

NYRA could face prosecution if it fails to abide by a long list of conditions to clean up operations.

"The appointment of the monitor is a significant step toward ensuring NYRA's full compliance with all federal, state, and local laws, and purging the organization of the corrupt culture that sanctioned the tax-evasion scheme," Andrew Hruska, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said of the criminal activity his office moved against last year.

The law firm's Web site says it serves as compliance counsel for numerous corporations and organizations. It advises them "on appropriate and effective responses to internal and external acts of fraud, conducting internal investigations and business integrity audits, and designing compliance programs to prevent and detect fraud."

"Getnick & Getnick comes to this challenging assignment with the experience and expertise needed for the difficult task of restoring confidence in the racing industry," state Comptroller Alan Hevesi said. "Effective oversight is crucial for rebuilding lost trust, and Getnick & Getnick has the background needed to ensure NYRA lives up to its promises."

The monitor will report its findings, under an arrangement with prosecutors, to Hevesi's office and the U.S. Attorney's office. The firm will make recommendations on how to improve operations.

The monitor will serve until July 2005. The appointment comes as NYRA rushes to get an extension of its franchise--which expires in 2007--to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. NYRA has said the extension is crucial if it is to obtain nearly $150 million in financing to construct a new video lottery terminal casino at Aqueduct.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a close NYRA ally whose district includes Saratoga, said the monitor's appointment is key "so that we can do the legislation that we have to do if that's what's going to happen to get (NYRA) in business with the VLTs."

Bruno is said to be close to unveiling legislation to extend NYRA's franchise for two or three additional years to give the time NYRA officials said is needed to help the association obtain financing for the VLT parlor.

"It has got to get done this session in order for them to advance and get VLTs up and running by the end of the year," Bruno said.

Gov. George Pataki did not address the issue of the NYRA franchise extension. "Obviously, they need dramatic reform, and they are taking some steps," he said of NYRA after the monitor's appointment.

The law firm will monitor all aspects of NYRA's daily operations, according to the U.S. Justice Department, which announced the appointment. The monitoring of NYRA will be overseen by two of the firm's top lawyers--Neil Getnick, a former prosecutor in Manhattan, and Margaret Finerty, a former judge who also served in the frauds bureau of the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Investigative work will be handled by Hawthorne Investigations & Security, a firm run by a retired New York City police detective. Financial monitoring will be done by P. Scutero & Associates, whose principal is a former IRS official.

It is uncertain how much the monitoring process will cost, but the expenses are being paid by NYRA.

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