Tuesday, October 24, 2006

State Worker As Chauffeur Violated Law

ABC News
State Worker As Chauffeur Violated Law
Ethics Panel Says N.Y. Comptroller Violated Law by Using State Worker As Wife's Chauffeur
The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - New York's comptroller violated state law by failing to pay nearly $83,000 for using a state employee as a chauffeur for his ailing wife, the state Ethics Commission ruled Monday.

The commission said there was reasonable cause to believe Comptroller Alan Hevesi used his position "to secure unwarranted privileges for himself and his wife, and in doing so, pursued a course of conduct that raises suspicion among the public that he likely engaged in acts that violated the public trust."

Hevesi, a Democrat seeking a second four-year term as the state's chief financial officer, acknowledged last month that he had not paid the state back for having his wife driven around by a state employee since 2003.

He apologized and repaid the state $82,688 for the worker's service, after his Republican challenger, J. Christopher Callaghan, went public with the issue. The commission, however, said the $82,688 was too little and faulted the comptroller's office for failing to keep any accounting of how the driver spent his time.

The ruling could mean a fine for Hevesi, suspension or even removal from office for breaking the public officer's law.

Commission spokesman Walter Ayres said the Legislature, where Hevesi served for 22 years as an Assemblyman, will determine the penalty. He also faces a criminal probe by the district attorney. Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had no immediate comment.

Hevesi, who also faces a criminal probe by Albany County District Attorney David Soares, had no immediate comment Monday. He told the commission in 2003 that his wife had had open heart surgery, three back surgeries and had had chronic pain for years.

"There is no question that Mrs. Hevesi suffers from debilitating illnesses ... but state employees may not use public resources to care for their loved ones. Surely, the state's comptroller may not do so," the Ethics Commission ruling said.

A WNBC/Marist College poll released Friday showed Hevesi leading Callaghan 62 percent to 22 percent among likely voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Of those surveyed, 51 percent said Hevesi acted unethically in failing to pay the state for the driver's service.