Call this the other government scandal in New York state. Or one of them, anyway.
Amid the hubbub over last week’s resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer over his involvement with a prostitute, the New York state attorney general and others have expanded their probe into allegations that lawyers and consultants have been improperly listed on the full-time payrolls of school districts and other local government agencies and have received state pension benefits.
According to an article last month in the Long Island newspaper Newsday, five school districts had reported their private attorney, Lawrence Reich, as a full-time employee, allowing him to collect more than $61,000 in New York state pension benefits, as well as health benefits.
State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo initially asked 124 school districts on Long Island and 48 in Westchester County for information on their relationships with their attorneys. He later asked all 704 districts in the state to voluntarily report any questionable arrangements involving consultants or professional-service providers.
Mr. Cuomo last week expanded his probe to certain other local agencies.
Meanwhile, on March 6, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued an audit that said the five Long Island school districts had improperly classified Mr. Reich as an employee. The school attorney was really an independent contractor, the audit said.
The comptroller said Mr. Reich was not entitled to a $61,000 annual state pension he has been collecting since he retired in 2006, and he should repay the state funds.
Mr. Reich, 67, of Centerport, N.Y., has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Peter J. Tomao of Garden City,N.Y., said that Mr. Reich was first listed as an employee at one school district in 1978, when “there were no clear rules” about the difference between employees and contractors.
“My client was a well-respected education attorney for over 40 years and felt he was acting in accordance with practices in the industry,” Mr. Tomao said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week