July 10, 2008

State Rescinds Pensions of Attorneys With Babylon IDA

By Chau Lam, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 10--The New York State Comptroller's office has rescinded nearly two decades' worth of state pension credits awarded two prominent Long Island attorneys after concluding that they are not public employees but private contractors working for the Babylon Town Industrial Development Agency.

"We are allowed to do that," said Babylon IDA chief executive Robert Stricoff.

The agency will continue to pay for health benefits for the attorneys -- John Braslow, 79, and William D. Wexler, 48 -- and their families, Stricoff said. The cost, he said, is about $14,000 per year for each.

However, only public employees, not private contractors, can be covered under the state's health insurance program, of which the Town of Babylon is a member, said David Ernst, a spokesman for the state's Department of Civil Service.

"We require people to be employees," Ernst said.

The town allows the Babylon IDA, a public benefit corporation set up to promote economic development, to buy health insurance for IDA employees through the town, Stricoff said.

Babylon Town Supervisor Steven Bellone and town board members did not return several calls and e-mail messages for comment.

Ernst said he could not comment specifically on Braslow's and Wexler's cases. In general, he said, the Department of Civil Service would investigate and remove any member who is an independent contractor if the matter were brought to the department's attention.

Reporting to the comptroller that the attorneys were public employees was a mistake, Stricoff said.

"Service rendered to a public employer as an independent contractor is not creditable with the Retirement System. Therefore, your enrollment is invalid," according to a letter dated June 23 sent by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to Braslow.

The error was discovered after Attorney General Andrew Cuomo launched his pension abuse probe, said Stricoff, who is also the Babylon Town Democratic Party chairman.

Braslow and Wexler have four months to appeal. They did not return calls yesterday for comment.

The Babylon IDA's classification of Braslow, father of Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow, and Wexler, son of U.S. District Court Judge Leonard D. Wexler, as public employees allowed them to earn state pension credits since 1988 and 1991, respectively.

The attorneys -- each of whom earned about $40,000 in retainer fees in 2007 -- have not begun collecting pensions.

Cuomo spokesman John Milgrim yesterday declined to say whether Braslow and Wexler are under investigation.

"We continue to investigate, actively investigate, dozens of lawyers and other professionals across the state for a variety of improper employment practices," Milgrim said.


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