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DA seeks payback method


March 11, 2006

The Suffolk district attorney's office is exploring ways to pay back contributors to the campaign fund of former Islip Supervisor Pete McGowan, who pleaded guilty Thursday to using funds for personal expenses.

Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney's office, said Friday that prosecutors plan to meet next week to discuss how to find contributors who want to be paid back, either through an advertisement or a telephone hotline.

McGowan's plea agreement requires that he pay back contributors to his $1.2 million "Friends of Pete McGowan" campaign fund. The office also may bring in a forensic accountant to figure out how much to pay each contributor, Clifford said.

A forensic accountant is the bloodhound of accountants, said Larry Crumbley, a professor of accounting at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and editor of the Journal of Forensic Accounting.

"Finding fraud is like using a metal detector in a city dump to find rare coins," Crumbley said.

Unlike regular accountants, whose review of the books may be somewhat superficial, a forensic accountant "will zero in on a particular area looking for red flags," Crumbley said.

Many, aside from being certified public accountants, also have training in fraud and the legal system, said Mark Gottlieb, head of MSG CPAs, a forensic accounting firm in Great Neck that works closely with law firms in business or marital disputes.

Under the plea agreement, McGowan forfeited the nearly $1.2 million that is currently in his campaign account.

But that amount is not the total he collected from 1998 through 2004, the time period covered in the criminal case. Because it is only a portion of the total, contributors will receive money on a pro-rated basis, said District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.