Cuomo invites public input on pension probe

By John O'Brien | May 22, 2008


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's latest quest continued Thursday as he invited testimony from those who feel private attorneys are ripping off the state's public pension systems.

State lawmakers joined Cuomo at SUNY Farmingdale, where education, legal and law enforcement officials testified. Cuomo says lawyers hired by school districts have been receiving public employee pension benefits.

Members of the public were invited to submit written testimony.

"Given the depth of fraud that our investigation has already uncovered, the public deserves to know exactly what is happening and how we in government are going to stop it," Cuomo said.

"Today's hearing was a chance to give a full accounting to New Yorkers of the problems we are facing."

State Sens. Dean Skelos and Kenneth Lavalle joined Assemblymen Robert Sweeney and Harvey Weisenberg at the hearing.

"Taxpayers have a right to know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent," said Skelos, the Republican Deputy Majority Leader. "Today's public hearing was an important step toward determining the scope of this problem and the steps that must be taken to address it.

"I look forward to working with Attorney General Cuomo and developing the legislation necessary to prevent this type of situation from occurring again."

Not everyone has welcomed Cuomo's investigation. 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."

Cuomo has secured two settlements since his investigation began in February. He claims some attorneys were put on the payrolls of some school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and received the benefits. He has subpoenaed every state BOCES, as well as 70 upstate attorneys and 20 from the Long Island area.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien via e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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