ALBANY — Seven state senators received thousands of dollars in questionable stipends earmarked for committee chairmen even though they don’t head any of the panels payroll documents say they do.
The revelations have prompted calls for criminal investigations from two government reform groups.
“Let’s call this what it is: fraud,” Reclaim New York said in a statement. “This was the deliberate defrauding of New Yorkers, and another stain on a state legislature tarnished by corruption.
The New York Times reported this week that payroll records filed by the Senate Republicans falsely listed three members of the renegade Independent Democratic Conference members as committee chairs.
The three senators — Diane Savino of Staten Island, Jose Peralta of Queens, and David Valesky of Syracuse — were actually given the titles of vice chairman or chairwoman, which don’t come with stipends.
The Daily News further learned that four Republican senators — Patricia Ritchie of St. Lawrence County, Thomas O’Mara of Chemung County, Pamela Helming of Ontario County, and Patrick Gallivan of Erie County — were paid thousands of dollars in stipends this year even though they, too, didn’t head any of the committees payroll records submitted by the Senate said they did.
The actual committee chairmen were receiving higher stipends for serving in leadership posts. Their committee stipends were then given to the seven vice or deputy vice chairs.
Some of the seven held chairmanships of lesser paying committees but instead took the higher stipends from the panels where they served as vice chairs.
IDC and GOP officials said state law does not prohibit vice chairs from collecting an unclaimed chairman’s stipend.
“Everything was done in accordance to the law,” Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said.
IDC spokeswoman Candace Giove said that “the members of IDC have always conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and carry out their duties within the full letter of the law.”
But Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the arrangement “represents an egregious misuse of public monies, and potentially a more serious legal violation, which must be investigated by law enforcement. This is not a clerical error to be blamed on staff, or punted to the Comptroller.”
Lerner said the the Senate needs to come clean about the terms under which the Senate leadership arrived at the arrangement of giving the IDC members stipends — known as lulus — even though they weren’t heading a committee.
Lerner also called for the practice to be discontinued immediately.
Reclaim New York said “New Yorkers deserve a swift and thorough investigation that concludes with holding any guilty parties accountable after another scheme that lined the pockets of legislators in a brazen violation of state law.”
A spokesman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for Albany District Attorney David Soares and a spokesman for the state ethics commission couldn’t be reached for comment.
State Controller Thomas Dinapoli’s office does not plan to try and get the seven senators to repay the state the money.
“The Senate determines who gets paid what stipend consistent with state law and the practices of the house,” DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said. “When our office receives a payroll request that has been certified by the Senate, or any state entity, we make the payment. At this time, we have no basis to take back this money.”