John O'Brien Jun. 18, 2008, 3:16pm
ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - Two law firms have settled allegations brought by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that claim their employment agreements with school boards have unfairly taken taxpayer money.
Albany's Girvin & Ferlazzo will pay $500,000 to the State, while Binghamton firm Hogan, Sarzynski, Lynch, Surowka & DeWind will pay $100,000.
"Both of these firms engaged in long-term schemes that cost New York's taxpayers and warped the very laws their attorneys were supposedly expert in," Cuomo said.
"The systemic abuse my office has uncovered in the public pension and benefits systems has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, and we will continue working to put an end to the abuse and an end to lawyers receiving public benefits they are not entitled to."
For months, Cuomo has been investigating attorneys who have been hired to represent school districts, thus landing on the district's payroll. As a result, the attorneys, he says, illegally gathered retirement benefits from the public fund paid by taxpayers.
He has subpoenaed 70 upstate law firms and 20 from the Long Island area, as well as every Board of Cooperative Educational Service in the state.
All pension credits earned by members of the firms were also forfeited, and the attorneys agreed to cooperate with Cuomo's investigation.
The Girvin firm has had an employment agreement with the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES for 19 years.
"The Girvin firm considered it a perk of partnership to collect public pension benefits they weren't entitled to," Cuomo said. "Some partners collected benefits as purported 'employees' while not providing any of the services for which they were being compensated."
Members of the Hogan firm have been collecting pension benefits since 1967, and Cuomo says founder John Hogan was improperly listed as an employee of as many as six different school districts and BOCES simultaneously.
The first-term Democrat is being sued by a group of attorneys who claim Cuomo's actions are politically motivated.
Albany firms Roemer, Wallens & Mineaux and DeGraff, Foy & Kunz filed the action and have organized a website -- Save New York State Retirement Membership Benefits.
"We are here to save the membership benefits that active members of the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System and current retirees are entitled," the site says. "Annually salaried part-time public employees are being unfairly harassed and illegally deprived of their rightful benefits."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.