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Held “Business Meetings” at Strip Clubs

Long Island- Michael Hollander, former president of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, repeatedly spent taxpayer money at Gossip, a Melville strip club, claiming to hold business meetings there, according to his expense records and Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

The convention bureau, a private nonprofit agency funded primarily by hotel/motel room taxes in Nassau and Suffolk, reimbursed Hollander credit card tabs at the topless club totaling $661 for five meetings between Nov. 7, 2002, and Jan. 9, 2003. Hollander’s expense reports said the meetings dealt with budgets, Nassau economics and public relations plans.

Newsday obtained the records by filing a Freedom of Information request for Hollander’s Gossip expenses from Sawicki, who is auditing the tourism agency. That audit, started late last year, is expected to be made public soon.

“I’m appalled that taxpayer money is being used in this improper manner,” Sawicki said. “Unfortunately, this kind of abusive spending is indicative of what our audit has uncovered.”

Sawicki said he has turned over the strip club expenses and other material to District Attorney Thomas Spota. Bob Clifford, Spota’s spokesman, said the DA is investigating. “It’s difficult to come up with a scenario where taking a client to Gossip fulfills the mission of promoting Long Island as a world-class tourist destination,” he said.

Sawicki said attempts were made to mask the topless club spending by cutting off the top of printed credit card receipts and whiting out and altering spelling in handwritten explanations to the convention bureau. “What makes this worse is the obvious attempt to hide the expenses,” Sawicki said.

Hollander did not return repeated calls for comment. He left the bureau last month to take what he termed a better job with a Hauppauge-based hotel management firm, Long Island Hotels LLC. Hollander, who is also chairman of the Suffolk County Community College board of trustees, has said the audit had nothing to do with his departure.

Gloria Rocchio, bureau chairwoman, declined to respond in detail until the entire audit comes out, but said, “Anything like this is not good for the image of the bureau.” She said safeguards are now in place to prevent such spending.

Rocchio said Hollander told the board about the strip club spending before he resigned as the bureau’s $151,000-a-year president last month. She said there was no pressure from the board to leave. “It was an embarrassing thing, a misjudgment,” she said.

Rocchio also believes that the expense money probably came out of membership fees, not tax money. However, Sawicki disputed the distinction, saying all but $90,000 of the bureau’s $2.3-million budget comes from the hotel/motel room tax and state grants.


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