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Attorney General Probes Erie County Furniture Dispute

By Associated Press

Buffalo, NY – State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is investigating Erie County's purchase of $2.5 million in office furniture from a company operated by County Executive Joel Giambra's close friend and chief political fund-raiser.

A preliminary review over the past several weeks prompted the attorney general to decide to move forward with a full investigation, Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp said Friday.

Since Giambra took office in 2000, the county has given virtually all of its modular furniture business to Buffalo Office Interiors.

An audit by County Comptroller Nancy Naples released last week found the company overbilled the county for $513,810 and that the company owned by James J. Spano sold $200,000 worth of products to the county that it didn't have a valid contract to sell.

Spano and Giambra have denied that the county was overcharged. Republican Giambra also questioned whether Democrat Spitzer could be objective.

Giambra also renewed his call, made earlier this week, for a special committee of the Legislature to consider whether the county overpaid for the furniture, and said lawmakers should not await the outcome of Spitzer's investigation.

County Attorney Frederick Wolf, meanwhile, said he wrote Naples on Friday to formally state his willingness to allow her to pursue legal action to obtain restitution from Spano's company, even though Wolf has said he doesn't feel the county has legal grounds to recapture any funds.

The investigation represents the second ongoing probe of the Giambra administration. A grand jury is investigating allegations of the misuse of equipment, supplies, contractual agreements and supervisory authority at the county highway department garage in Aurora.