|By Brandon Bain, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 4, 2005 - The Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says its making some tough internal reforms to clean up its act after a scandal in which its former president pleaded guilty to misusing thousands of taxpayer dollars for romps at strip clubs and phony lunches with local politicians.
The bureau, which promotes tourism for Nassau and Suffolk, has beefed up its oversight to prevent further fraud. It also has restricted use of corporate cards for travel and entertainment and will separate public funds from private donations, said the bureau's new president Moke McGowan. The bureau has an annual budget of $2.2 million, most of which comes from a hotel tax levied in both counties.
Last year, Michael Hollander resigned from the presidency after an audit found close to $350,000 in taxpayer funds had been misspent. Hollander pleaded guilty to filing thousands of dollars in bogus expenses. He did not get jail time, but was sentenced to 840 hours of community service, $10,000 in restitution and $9,700 for the district attorney's investigation.
The misspending was found in audit of the bureau by Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.
"It really was a wake up call for our organization," McGowan said of the audit and ensuing scandal. "With the sales taxes that we've generated, we have not been getting the job done."
From last month's Breeders Cup at Belmont Park to various A-list performers at the North Fork Theatre at Westbury and Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater, legislators and tourism officials argue that Long Island has many underutilized attractions.
McGowan said the agency plans to do more advertising on Long Island to increase leisure and lifestyle activities and encourage overnight stays from off-Island visitors. But the main problem of generating revenue in Long Island is getting visitors to stay overnight. Nassau County last year pulled in $30 million in tax revenue, while Suffolk collected $39 million, McGowan said.
"Over the last few years Nassau County has not raised taxes, we need to increase other funding sources for the county," said Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale), chairman of the legislature's economic development committee. Mejias held two hearings with legislators to discuss reforms to the bureau.
The Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, a Hauppauge based nonprofit, was founded in 1978 to promote conventions, sporting events and tourism in the Nassau and Suffolk region.
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