Attorney General Cuomo Subpoenas Lawyers And Law Firms Across New York State In Expanding Probe Into School Districts' Lawyers
ALBANY, NY (April 10, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced today that his Office has issued multiple subpoenas to lawyers and law firms in upstate counties as part of his rapidly expanding probe into potentially fraudulent employment arrangements between public school systems and lawyers.
Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office have thus far identified more than 90 attorneys (more than 70 upstate and 20 in Long Island) who may have been improperly placed on public school system payrolls in connection with more than 180 school districts statewide (more than 150 upstate and 30 in Long Island). Calling these lawyers “employees” enabled them to collect taxpayer-funded health, pension, and other benefits not otherwise available for professional consultants.
“Ensuring the highest standards of public integrity is of paramount concern to my office and to this State,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “State resources should never be expended on those who are not legally entitled to receive them. We are talking about lawyers well versed in employment statutes who know that ‘business as usual’ is no excuse for breaking the law. In many instances, these were not simple misunderstandings but repeated acts of fraud. My office is committed to rooting out this problem and protecting the public from abuses like these in the future.”
The investigation so far is focusing on lawyers and law firms working in Long Island and in more than 20 upstate counties including Albany, Broome, Delaware, Erie, Madison and Monroe.
Many of the attorneys in question appeared on the payrolls of multiple school districts or BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) simultaneously. At least some of the attorneys who appeared on the payrolls did not actually provide legal services for the school districts or BOCES in question.
Many of these lawyers remained on school districts’ or BOCES’ payrolls for such extended periods of time, or were included on the payrolls of so many school districts or BOCES simultaneously, that they accumulated substantial credits in the New York State Employees’ Retirement System. One such attorney, who was listed on the payrolls of as many as seven school districts and BOCES in one year, may have already collected in excess of $700,000 in taxpayer-funded pension benefits.
The subpoenas announced today are part of Attorney General Cuomo’s continuing probe into fraudulent employment practices at the state’s hundreds of school districts and BOCES. The Attorney General’s investigation began in Long Island in early February. State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills subsequently referred this matter to the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General has civil and criminal jurisdiction.
New York State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said, “We often refer matters to the Attorney General and are grateful for his rapid and thorough response. This matter deserves all the urgency that the Attorney General has brought to it. It is a matter of public integrity and involves taxpayer dollars. Abuse of the kind alleged cannot be tolerated. My colleagues and I will continue to work with the Attorney General to see an end to this practice.”
The Attorney General’s Office urges individuals with knowledge of any questionable arrangements between any school districts, BOCES or other local government entities and their outside professionals to contact the Public Integrity Bureau at 212-416-8090 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.