2007_03_mta.jpgMany businesses have strict policies about accepting "gifts" from vendors, but when you work for a public agency, scrutiny is extremely intense. amNew York found an intriguing connection between an MTA executive's favorite charity and law firms that get business from his division.

It turns out that five law firms have donated thousands of dollars to a charity where Wallace Gossett, director of the Transit Authority's torts division (think lawsuits where people sue after falling down MTA stairs), sits on the board. And of the MTA's $3.8 million in outside legal fees, those five law firms get about a third.

The Northside Center for Child Development holds a big gala every year, and some firms say they have never been pressured or solicited by Gossett to attend. But even though Gossett doesn't call them or mail them the gala invitations, he is featured in the materials - and it was "recommended Gossett stop sending Northside a list of the Transit Authority's outside counsel for inclusion in its invites because it violated the Public Officers Law." Okay, this is a lot more complicated than when the boss's kid sells Girl Scouts cookies in the office.

The MTA tells amNY there's "no 'pay-to-play' here," especially since Gossett doesn't personally pick which law firms get work, but watchdog groups wonder if law firms are attending the benefit for access. We hear that MTA Executive Director Lee Sander said in an MTA board meeting today that he was going to speak to the MTA Inspector General about the issue.

Photograph by Triborough on Flickr