State, county comptrollers team up to tackle pension abuse

COURTESY PHOTO | Suffolk County Comptroller Joe Sawicki

Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki has recently volunteered to release county payroll information to aid in the statewide effort to thwart pension violators.

The new pilot program, which was announced earlier this month, allows state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office to detect if retired government employees are defrauding the system by receiving a pension while working for Suffolk County and making over $30,000 annually.

After Mr. DiNapoli announced his pension reform plan earlier this year, Mr. Sawicki said he reached out to him to offer help in launching the pilot program because he believes such a system has been long overdue.

“In this day and age it’s difficult to believe an effective cross-checking system hasn’t been created,” said Mr. Sawicki, a Southold native.

He added that he believed Suffolk County would be a good municipality for the pilot program because of its of its size. Currently, there are nearly 12,000 people working for the county and about 8,000 are retired, he said.

Mr. DiNapoli’s press secretary, Eric Sumberg, described Mr. Sawicki’s move as “an act of goodwill.”

“We will be able to check for violations by taking county payroll information and running it against our state pension records,” Mr. Sumberg said, adding results from the pilot program are expected to be released this fall.

It’s illegal for retired workers receiving full pension checks to make over $30,000 annually from a government job unless they are over the age of 65 or have obtained a waiver, Mr. Sumberg said.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed-off on a law in June that would grant Mr. DiNapoli access to payroll data from municipalities across the state as of Jan. 1, the pilot program will help him to “get a sense of how large the problem may or may not be,” Mr. Sumberg said.

“We would catch people only if we did an audit or if someone tipped us off,” Mr. Sumberg said. “Now that won’t be the case and we’ll be able to see if someone in our system is working for the county making more than they are allotted.”

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