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Inspector general takes up SUNY probe

ALBANY -- New York's inspector general has taken the lead in investigating ethics claims against a vice chancellor of the State University of New York, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Inspector General Ellen Biben's letter to SUNY officials said she will investigate the case of John O'Connor, who makes $275,937 a year as president of the SUNY Research Foundation. The state Commission on Public Integrity has accused O'Connor of allowing the daughter of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to continue in a no-show job.

Biben's letter dated yesterday to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who is also chairwoman of the SUNY Research Foundation's board, said she is investigating O'Connor, SUNY and its research foundation, the American Ditchley Foundation that employs O'Connor and his consulting business, and Susan Bruno, daughter of the former Republican lawmaker who is appealing a federal corruption conviction. The letter chastises SUNY for beginning its own public reviews and audits.

"SUNY should defer until further notice any efforts to conduct an independent audit or investigation into these or any related matters," Biben wrote. She said SUNY must drop its reviews so her office can investigate "without interference."

Meanwhile, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said yesterday he is sending a fraud unit to audit the SUNY Research Foundation. DiNapoli said his audit will examine hiring, compensation and potential conflicts of interests at the research foundation and its financial relationship with SUNY.

O'Connor is taking accrued vacation time to fight the ethics charge and has asked the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the Public Integrity Commission's methods and tactics. Yesterday's letter doesn't mention the commission.

O'Connor's appearance before a judge seeking an order to require a public hearing was postponed from yesterday to Friday.

Over the past decade, O'Connor has been paid as much as $85,000 a year as executive director of the American Ditchley Foundation, an international think tank. Its work has included conferences on community colleges that Susan Bruno, as an employee of the SUNY Research Foundation, attended. O'Connor's consulting business has since been paid $65,000 to help organize symposiums.

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