Thursday, April 03, 2008

Politically Connected Get Away with Murder - or at least Lots of Money

The School Attorney Scandal just keeps revealing more thieves in our midst. Just because compensation was "approved" doesn't mean it is ethical to take the compensation. Sandra Peddie and Eden Lakin in Newsday exposes what might be one of the most egregious acts in the whole scandal "The New York State comptroller's office retroactively gave a politically influential Nassau County lawyer 21 years' credit in the state pension system -- even though he had been paid as a private contractor all those years -- helping him get a six-figure pension for the rest of his life, records show.

In making the decision in 2000 to give Valley Stream real estate lawyer Albert D'Agostino the retroactive credits that resulted in an annual pension of $106,702, the state relied on letters from two prominent people connected to the Nassau County Planning Commission, as well as D'Agostino's 1099 forms, said the comptroller's spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis.

"In addition, records show, he was not required to make any pension contributions for the retroactive credits. Nassau County paid $102,259 into the pension system on his behalf, according to the state and county comptrollers' offices. Hempstead paid $8,133.

D'Agostino declined to answer questions, but said in a statement: "Both positions were approved, and my employment status was approved and appropriate, and that approval occurred at all levels."
Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, who was not in office at the time, said the retroactive pension was not appropriate.
"Who was watching the store in 2000 when a private lawyer who had county contracts for over two decades is retroactively given 21 years of employment status without the county ever hiring him?" he said. "How many other instances might exist of county contractors converted retroactively to employee status prior to retirement?"
"D'Agostino, 64, has represented a number of high-profile clients, including former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, in his private law practice. A longtime Republican committeeman, he ran unsuccessfully for State Supreme Court in 2000. He also currently serves on the Nassau County Empire Zone Board, established in 2006 to manage economic development.

He applied for the state pension credits under laws passed in 1993 and 2000 that allow public employees who meet certain criteria to get additional pension credits, DeSantis said.
Such laws originally were intended to help veterans who had to leave public jobs temporarily because of time spent in the service, said William Friedman, a Hempstead lawyer who has litigated pension cases.
Records show he retired in October 2000, after amassing roughly 28 years in the system from six municipal entities. They included the county, Hempstead, the Village of Valley Stream, and the
Lawrence, North Merrick and Valley Stream No. 30 school districts. He also received an early retirement incentive, according to county Civil Service records.
Newsday reported last week that D'Agostino was one of 10 lawyers who have received state pension credits because school districts reported him as an employee.
Records indicate he was reported as an employee of as many as four municipal entities at a time, while he and his firm were paid at least $5 million.
After he began collecting his pension, he continued working for the county commission for about two years. And he has continued to work for the three school districts."

This is where our tax money is going. There are so many honest public employees who work hard to make our County, Towns and Villages run well but this kind of thing casts a dark cloud over public employment. We need tighter regulations and better administration of pay and benefits to correct this problem. I have a feeling that there are alot more
D'Agostino's out there.

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