John O'Brien Jun. 24, 2008, 12:39pm
ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - Like some of his other projects, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's fight against attorneys he says are ripping off public retirement funds has resulted in proposed state legislation.
In addition to strengthening penalties for fraud, closing certain loopholes and increasing transparency in school spending plans, Cuomo said Monday he plans to appoint a special prosecutor who will investigate fraud in the public pension system.
Since taking office in 2007, Cuomo has proposed legislation dealing with the home health care and student loan industries, the nation's home foreclosure crisis and film bootleggers.
"New York's public pension system has been ripe for fraud and abuse, and that stops now," Cuomo said. "This legislation is the product of extraordinary bipartisan efforts to reign in the public pension fraud that has festered for decades and cost New York's taxpayers millions."
Settlements with law firms have thus far yielded $900,000. Cuomo has subpoenaed 70 upstate attorneys and 20 Long Island attorneys, as well as every Board of Cooperative Educational Service in the state.
In an announcing a settlement earlier this month, Cuomo said he was working with lawmakers on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined Cuomo in publicizing the bill.
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."
The legislation would make pension fraud a felony and end a loophole in which a public employee can retire and return to the same job days later to enhance their compensation and benefits, Cuomo said.
Lawyers would not be allowed to work for the same school as both an employee and outside contractor. Cuomo said attorneys were doing this to earn public pension benefits.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.