Nassau County, N.Y., will issue bonds to partially fund a $46 million court judgment owed to two men who were exonerated for a 1985 murder conviction.
The Nassau County legislature approved $23 million in borrowing late Monday to help comply with a Wednesday deadline in a 2014 civil trial ruling that awarded $36 million in damages plus legal fees to Dennis Halstead and John Restivo. The two men served 18 years in prison for the 1984 rape and murder of 16-year old Lynbrook resident Theresa Fusco before DNA evidence exonerated them in 2003. The remaining half of the court judgment will come from funds set aside by former County Executive Ed Mangano.
The new Nassau County executive, Laura Curran, had requested to borrow the full amount of the court judgment with the Republican-controlled legislature opting instead for a compromise figure. Borrowing authorization requires a super majority approval of 13 votes.
The county faced a race against the clock to pay the judgment in the backdrop of fiscal challenges after its fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, rejected a $2.99 billion budget late last year and ordered $18 million in cuts due to revenue uncertainty. A NIFA spokesman declined to comment on the county’s financing plan for the court judgment.
The Nassau County Office of Legislative Review estimated that the county would incur roughly $11.5 million in interest over 15 years if it borrowed for the entire judgment amount.
“We appreciate this bipartisan action by the legislature,” said Michael Martino, a spokesman for Curran. “We are faced with tightening the belt to close the remaining budget gap and we must develop a financial plan that includes bonding and persuade NIFA to support that plan.”
NIFA has controlled Nassau County’s finances since early 2011 after it failed to balance its budget. The large suburban county, which is located just outside New York City, has bond ratings of A2 from Moody’s Investors Service and A-plus by S&P Global Ratings.