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Attorney general widens pension probe

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is suing rental complex developers over lack of access for disabled people. (March 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The state attorney general's office will examine the payroll records of hundreds of state and local government retirees - including many recent retirees from Long Island - in a new statewide investigation of pension padding, officials said Thursday.

In a news conference at C.W. Post's Brookville campus with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the new probe is an expansion of the investigation his office began in 2008 after Newsday stories about pension abuses.

"We have found fraud all throughout the system," Cuomo said of the probe.

Pension padding is the practice of using overtime or other means to inflate one's salary before retirement. Pensions are typically based on the three final or highest years of salary, so higher salaries yield higher pensions.

Some states specifically ban pension padding, also known as spiking, but New York does not. Cuomo called that "a legal loophole" and said he expected to find both mismanagement and outright fraud in the probe.

His office is requesting payroll records for people who retired last year from 28 state agencies and local governments that have some of the highest pension payments in the state. Among them are Nassau and Suffolk counties, the city of Glen Cove and the villages of Old Westbury, Lynbrook and Hempstead.

Although no individuals have been targeted yet, Cuomo cited the case of a sanitary district official whose annual salary increased from about $150,000 to more than $200,000 through raises, bonuses and special payments.

Sources close to the investigation said he was referring to Charles Scarlata, then 51 and the supervisor of Sanitary District 7 in Oceanside. Scarlata's compensation package, which includes deferred compensation of $25,000 a year for 15 years after he retires, drew fire after being reported in Newsday last year.

Scarlata's father, Michael, who retired from the district and still serves as its consultant and spokesman, declined to comment Thursday.

Village mayors reached for comment Thursday said they welcomed the investigation. "It's true," said Hempstead Mayor Wayne Hall. "A lot of people pad their stuff."

"I'm all for it," said Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi.


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