Alfred Lama, executive director of the Suffolk Ethics Commission.

Alfred Lama, executive director of the Suffolk Ethics Commission. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County has sued its former ethics commission director to recover nearly $23,000 in salary and health insurance overpayments found by a county audit.

In a complaint filed in State Supreme Court earlier this month, county attorneys said Alfred Lama, 79, was overpaid $8,209 in wages because he was "incorrectly treated as a management" employee rather than a union worker. The suit also claims he owes $14,685 for health benefits to which he was not entitled because he did not work enough hours during many pay periods.

The suit says that Lama, under the union contract, was only eligible to receive health benefits when he worked more than 50 percent of his full-time hours during each pay period. Lama, according to the complaint, failed to work half-time for 86 weeks during his seven-year employment that ended in April 2011.

The lawsuit arises out of a July 2011 audit by Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

Lama, a former state Supreme Court justice, left the ethics post after the county legislature replaced the old three-member commission with a five-member ethics board.

Lama referred questions to his attorney, Peter Bee, of Mineola, who said he just recently received legal papers. "We are confident that Judge Lama did nothing wrong and in the end the outcome will show that," Bee said.

In past responses to the Sawicki audit, Lama and his backers said the ethics board had authorized his work hours, that he was considered management and that he was told he qualified for medical benefits as long as he worked more than 50 percent of his full-time hours in a year.

Sawicki disputed those arguments. The comptroller said the county tried to recover money in informal negotiations, but Lama offered only a "ridiculously low" token settlement.

"In many weeks, he worked zero hours and anyone who works zero hours is not entitled to health benefits based on the union contract," Sawicki said.The final two members of the new ethics board were appointed in the county legislature on Tuesday.Chairwoman Heather Palmore said the new panel will meet in early July to find its executive director. "We plan to hit the ground running," she said.

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