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Sunday, December 7, 2008

State Comptroller Eyes Attorney's Pension

Comptroller eyes former Hempstead attorney's pension
Newsday by EDEN LAIKIN -
December 3, 2008

During his six years as Hempstead Village attorney, W. Charles Robinson was paid a total of about $184,000 in public salary. Yet, for that same period, the village reported to the state comptroller's office that he was paid more than $1 million - an amount that would have dramatically increased his public pension. In a highly unusual finding made in June of last year, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office said the higher amount reflected work not done by Robinson, who left the village in 2005, but by employees in his private law firm. At that time, the comptroller's office removed $924,544 from Robinson's salary calculations. Now, officials there say, the office is investigating whether Robinson was a village employee at all and entitled to a public pension. A ruling on that question is expected soon, officials said. "Our auditors determined that other members of his firm were actually doing the work, so he wasn't entitled to have the additional voucher payments credited to salary," said Emily DeSantis, DiNapoli's spokeswoman.

The circumstances surrounding Robinson's pension credits are the latest twist in a series of disclosures about pension practices on Long Island. Since last winter, Newsday has shown that dozens of attorneys were improperly listed as employees by a number of school districts so that they could be included in the state pension system. Legislation signed into law this fall by Gov. David A. Paterson bans this practice outright. By all appearances, the Robinson case takes these disclosures to a new level. "This news is yet another outrageous example of how our pension system has been abused and manipulated," said Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman.

Factors involved

With the $924,544 removed from Robinson's salary calculations, DeSantis said that left Robinson, 56, with the $184,581 that he was paid in salary during his six years as village attorney. If the comptroller's office determines Robinson was never an employee to begin with, he could lose that amount, too. The practice of being both an employee and independent contractor at the same time is prohibited under IRS rules. In January of last year, after Robinson turned 55, he applied to the state to begin collecting his pension. Among the factors used in calculating a state pension are years of service and the average of the highest three years of pay. His application was rejected, DeSantis said, because Robinson could not substantiate his salary calculations.

Just how the higher salary amount was reported to state pension officials remains in dispute. In an interview, Robinson said his salary figures were reported to the state by village officials. Former village treasurer Salvatore Lombardi, who retired in 2005, confirmed that his office did report the higher numbers to the state. In an interview, Lombardi said state auditors told him to report the earnings of the previous village attorney that way and he continued the arrangement with Robinson. "We were following what the state retirement system told us to do," Lombardi said. "I didn't agree with it. I didn't think it was right. It didn't make sense." DeSantis said that, under certain circumstances for some public employees, retainer fees can be combined with salary figures for pension purposes. She said Robinson did not meet those criteria.

In the interview, Robinson said he would give up his pension if it's found he is not entitled to it. But, he added, the state needs to pay him back $51,182 he made in payroll contributions from 1999 to 2005. "They want to take it away? That's fine with me," Robinson said. "Just give me my money back. I never expected it in the first place." In the interview, Robinson said Lombardi told him at the time that he was reporting both the salary and the amount paid to the law firm to the state. Robinson said he believed it was proper to do it that way.

Records under scrutiny

After Newsday's stories on pension abuse, state officials have been reviewing hundreds of cases statewide. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office has reached more than $1.2 million in settlements with 65 attorneys statewide. Separately, DiNapoli has taken action against 40 people statewide. The new pension reform law tightens up procedures and institutes stiff penalties for violators. A Newsday examination of Hempstead village and state records shows that Robinson's village salary averaged approximately $28,500 a year during his six-year tenure. Yet, between $131,600 and $176,600 was added each year to those figures on amended reports to the state retirement system filed by the village, the records show. While he was paid $184,581 in salary for this period, the amount reported to the state was $1,095,000, which included money paid to at least 11 employees of his law firm, C. Robinson and Associates in New York City, the records show.

Robinson said he started doing legal work for the village in the 1980s as an independent contractor. In 1999, he was hired as village attorney and continued working as both until 2005. He said he had the same approved arrangement as the village attorney who served before him. In the interview, Robinson acknowledged that he probably didn't meet the IRS criteria of an employee, which include having a work space, being supervised by an employer and maintaining records such as time sheets. In all, the village paid Robinson and his law firm more than $4.7 million from 2000 to 2005, in salary and retainer fees. Of that amount, $3.4 million was paid for litigation he and his firm handled for the village, records show. The village also paid a total of $52,575 for Robinson's health, dental and optical coverage during the six years and continues to pay approximately $15,100 a year for his health coverage, records show.

PATH TO PENSION

APRIL 1999: W. Charles Robinson is hired as Village of Hempstead attorney, joins state retirement system, and continues to do legal work for the village as an independent contractor.

2000-2005: His average annual salary of approximately $28,500 is reported to the state for pension calculation purposes. During this time, the village sends amended reports to the state with the amount paid to Robinson and his law firm in retainer fees, to be added to the salary figures. The village also reports Robinson as a full-time employee.

APRIL 2005: Robinson resigns from the village when new administration comes in.

JAN. 2007: Robinson applies to state comptroller's office to begin collecting his pension. His application is rejected.

JUNE 2007: State comptroller's office removes nearly $1 million from his salary calculations, determining that others in his law firm actually did the work.

NOV. 2007: State comptroller's office suspends Robinson's membership in the state pension system pending further investigation.

NOV. 2008: Comptroller's office says it's investigating whether Robinson was ever an employee and entitled to a public pension.

Earning issues

Salary as village attorney Amount paid in retainers Salary amount reported to state

2000 $28,390.70 $131,609.30 $160,000.00

2001 $42,516.43 $131,609.30 $160,000.00

2002 $28,390.74 $141,609.29 $170,000.00

2003 $28,481.00 $171,519.00 $200,000.00

2004 $28,411.70 $171,588.30 $200,000.00

2005 $28,390.70 $176,609.30 $205,000.00

Total $184,581.27 $924,544.49 $1,095,000.00

Total salary Robinson earned in six years as village attorney $184,581.27

Amount paid for work actually done by employees in his law firm $924,544.49

Total reported to the state and used for Robinson's pension credits $1,095,000.00

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where is Cuomo? Is submitting pension credits for the work of others legal in NY? Does this happen because Spitzer and Cuomo looked the other way?

jefferson560 said...

Hay who ever left that comment your a piece of crap its good you made your name anonymous coward be a man put your name out there thats my father and he does all his own work punk be man next time you make a comment.

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