New York Pol’s Daughter Got $165,000 No-Show Job, AG Says

     ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – The daughter of former New York Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno defrauded taxpayers of $165,000 she got for a no-show job, the New York attorney general claims in court.
     The state sued John J. O’Connor, former president of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, and Susan Bruno, his former special assistant, in Albany County Supreme Court.
     Bruno was paid “at least $164,952 in state funds for services that she did not perform,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says in the complaint. He seeks treble damages.
     The state claims that Bruno and her boss, O’Connor, “conspired to commit violations” of New York’s False Claims Act by knowingly presenting false claims for payment.
     Bruno’s father Joseph was at one time a powerful Republican in New York. A longtime state legislator from suburban Rensselaer County, he became Senate majority leader in an intraparty coup in 1994 and remained in the post for 14 years. He resigned in 2008 in the face of an FBI probe that led to his indictment on federal corruption charges.
     He was convicted at trial in 2009 of two counts of honest services fraud, but the verdict was thrown out in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutionally vague. Federal prosecutors are seeking a second trial but the February 2013 trial date has been postponed as Bruno’s attorneys fight it. They told an appeals court in May this year that he should not be retried.
     Susan Bruno went to work for the Research Foundation in 2003 in what the complaint describes as a newly created position that never was posted for applicants. The foundation, affiliated with the State University of New York, manages grants awarded to university research projects by federal, state and private entities.
     Bruno was hired as “assistant director, Foundation relations for legislation,” at an annual salary of $70,000. She received a new title and boss about a year later: special assistant to O’Connor, who was foundation president until he was fired in 2011.
     The complaint says Bruno was an “exempt” employee who, like others similarly classified, filled out monthly time sheets called exception reports. The reports, signed by employee and supervisor, detailed any absences during the month and to what accrual category – vacation, sick leave, personal days – they were to be charged.
     Almost from the start, the complaint states, Bruno ran into trouble with her then-supervisor, Matthew Behrmann, after informing him that she had been given a flexible work schedule by O’Connor “as a condition of her employment.”
     Behrmann asked that she call in on days she worked from home and prepare an activity report to show what she was working on. But Bruno “failed to comply with Behrmann’s requirements,” according to the complaint, “and as a result he refused to continue to authorize her exception reports.”
     Bruno asked to be reassigned to O’Connor, and in 2004 she was given the new title of special assistant to the president.
     The attorney general says that O’Connor, as her supervisor, should have assigned her tasks and overseen her time and attendance. But Bruno told others at the foundation on more than one occasion that “she did not have any work to do,” according to the complaint.
     The state claims that O’Connor “intentionally ignored or recklessly disregarded” that Bruno was not reporting to work and “was unable or unwilling to perform the few tasks assigned to her.”
     The complaint offers in detail – for nearly seven pages of the 22-page complaint – how for 47 months, between January 2005 and November 2008, Bruno failed to accurately account for time away from work for which she was paid.
     For instance, the complaint states, she failed to charge 7.5 hours to accrual when she missed a day in October 2005 because she was “getting new carpet in my living room.” Or 7.5 hours in March 2007 when she stayed home “waiting for the veterinarian to arrive” to take care of her family’s horse. Or 15 hours for two days in March 2008 so she “would not ‘miss any of the scandal on TV!'” – an apparent reference to news coverage on March 11 and 12 of the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, after revelations that he frequented prostitutes.
     The attorney general claims Susan Bruno missed other work time accompanying her father on trips to New York City or Washington, D.C.; helping his staff make calls on behalf of Republicans running for office; doing his laundry or cleaning his house.
     The 47 monthly exception reports that Susan Bruno submitted “cover hours Bruno failed to report to the [Research Foundation] offices, failed to conduct any RF business, and did not properly charge leave accruals. In reliance on these exception reports, the RF paid Bruno with state funds for services not rendered,” according to the complaint.
     O’Connor, meanwhile, “certified that these exception reports were accurate while having actual knowledge that they were not accurate,” the complaint states.
     “Bruno and O’Connor’s knowing submission of the false and fraudulent 47 exception reports resulted in Bruno receiving at least $164,952 in state funds for services that she did not perform,” according to the complaint.
     The Albany Times Union reported in 2011that O’Connor lost his job at the foundation and was stripped of roles as a senior vice chancellor of SUNY and secretary to the SUNY Board of Trustees, after the state Commission on Public Integrity released a “notice of reasonable cause” that he violated state ethics laws by giving Bruno the no-show job.
     When she left the foundation in 2009, after nearly six years, Bruno’s salary was just over $84,100, according to the complaint.
     In bringing the action, the attorney general’s office cited the so-called Tweed Law, named after infamous Tammany Hall boss William Magear Tweed, whose political machine stole millions from New York City in the 1860s and 1870s. Formally known as Executive Law Section 63-c, the statute gives the attorney general authority to seek recovery of state money obtained improperly.
     The state seeks treble damages for Bruno’s “unearned compensation”; civil penalties of $12,000 for each of the 47 violations of state finance law; and the costs of bringing the action.
     Assistant Attorney General Colleen Glavin represents the state.

%d bloggers like this: