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by Jay Gallagher

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Like robbery without a gun"

Ever get tired of working Fridays? Or wondered why state government is so expensive?

Me too.

A couple of state watchdogs provided some potential answers today as to what happens when these two human traits collide.

Comptroller tom DiNapoli and Inspector General Joseph Fisch charged in a report that a former state official Howard Dean blew off working Fridays - each and every one - for 17 years, but got paid as if he were working, costing taxpayers almost $230,000.

Moreover, he also received travel reimbursements for which he was not entitled, improperly used state for improper use of vehicles, gas and tolls, faked claims for hotels and meals and otherwise ripped off taxpayers to the tune of a total of just under $500,000.

“The findings of this audit are breathtaking,’’ DiNapoli said. Fisch called it “an outrageous scam’’ and “like a robbery without a gun.’’

Dean was director of the Department of Corrections’ Food Production Center in Rome, Oneida County from 1992 until he retired in 2008 at a salary of $112,000 a year. He headed up the facility, which is staffed by 140 inmates and 80 employees and provides meals to the entire 60,000-bed prison system.

The state is trying to get the money back and has referred the case to the Oneida County district attorney, who could press criminal charges.

Current prisons commissioner Brian Fischer pointed out that the entire 17 years of Dean ripping the state off occurred under the reign of his predecessor, Thomas Coughlin. He said soon after he was appointed commissioner in 2007, his staff got a tip about the situation and that he had a deputy commissioner, Gayle Paponik, started to review it. Dean’s travel status was discontinued that November.

“Since I became commissioner in 2007, I have repeatedly reminded all managerial staff…that they will be held accountable for all of their actions and that they must adhere to the highest ethical standards,’’ Fischer said in response to the audit.

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