Former Bridge Authority Director Pleads Guilty To Defrauding State
Attorney General Spitzer today announced that the former executive director of the New York State Bridge Authority has pleaded guilty to two criminal counts stemming from an investigation of his travel expenses.
John E. Gaffney, 68, of Cortlandt Manor, pleaded guilty today to two counts of Attempting to Defraud the Government, a class "A" misdemeanor. The plea was entered in State Supreme Court in Ulster County before Justice Michael Kavanagh. Gaffney faces up to two years in jail for his crimes.
"Public officials who break the law and undermine the public trust must be held accountable," Spitzer said. "This plea, which is the result of close cooperation with the Inspector General's Office and the Ulster County District Attorney, shows that no one is above the law."
New York State Inspector General Jill Konviser-Levine said: "I thank the Attorney General and the staff of the New York State Bridge Authority for their cooperation in this investigation, and appreciate their efforts in bringing this matter to an appropriate conclusion."
Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams said: "This office sincerely appreciates the efforts of Attorney General Spitzer in using the resources of the state to hold the defendant accountable for his actions. Evidence was gathered throughout the United States and it is the strength of that evidence that secured today's plea."
An investigation by the Attorney General's office, with the assistance of the Inspector General and the Ulster County District Attorney, revealed that from February 1998 to February 2002, Gaffney took four trips to Florida and three trips to Texas. Gaffney claimed that these trips were for Bridge Authority business, but investigators determined that the trips were largely personal in nature.
On one trip, Gaffney claimed that he was examining an electronic toll collection system -- even though Bridge Authority personnel informed him replacing the existing system was not feasible given the fact that the state was already under a contract to the EZ-Pass system. Investigators determined that the real reason for the trip was for Gaffney to visit a family member who lives in Parkland, Florida.
During another trip, Gaffney attended a six-day conference and stayed at a resort in Miami. Gaffney extended his stay on the pretext of having additional business meetings. In fact, he extended the stay to participate in a sailing excursion.
On another occasion, he sought reimbursement for accommodations, a rental car, and tolls to Sanibel Island. Gaffney admitted to investigators that this trip was actually to scout vacation property.
The purported purpose for a series of trips to Texas again was to learn about a second electronic toll-system. Gaffney took the trips even though the Bridge Authority's chief engineer told him that the Texas system was not practical for New York.
Investigators believe the real purpose of the trips was again to visit family members. On three separate occasions, Gaffney traveled to San Antonio and Laredo, where he had no business meetings. The trips lasted from between six and eight days. Investigators determined that Gaffney's wife has family members, who live in the region, and that Gaffney was visiting them.
Travel expenses for the trips to Florida and Texas amounted to $8,675.64. In addition, Gaffney was paid $7,455.44 in salary for days that he failed to declare as vacation.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Gaffney is barred from holding public office or any position of trust, such as serving on the board of directors of a publicly-traded company or a not-for-profit corporation. He has already made partial restitution to the State of New York in the amount of $5,267.46.
Sentencing is scheduled for January 4, 2005.
Spitzer thanked the Inspector General and the Ulster County District Attorney for their assistance with the case.
The State Bridge Authority operates the Bear Mountain, Newburg-Beacon, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff and Rip Van Winkle Bridges. As executive director, Gaffney was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the authority and its staff of 225 people. He was paid $137,703 annually.
This matter was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Richard Ernst and Bureau Chief Janet Cohn of the Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Bureau. It was investigated by Investigators Roy Remington and Sondra Lavine under the supervision of Supervising Investigator David Adams.