How much is New York paying in pensions to disgraced lawmakers?

Former State Senator Carl Kruger resigned, pleaded guilty to corruption charges, and has cleared out of his district’s office. But under current ethics law, he is still eligible for a state pension.

The Times Union’s Jimmy Vielkind estimated that Kruger will get about $69,534.61 per year under the pension scheme because a pension claw-back provision in the new ethics law passed earlier this year doesn’t apply to public servants who had been employed by the state prior to the enactment of the law on November 13, according to Eric Sumberg, press secretary of the State Comptroller. They “would not have their pensions taken away,” said Sumberg. “If you are a member of the system, and all state legislators are, you are entitled to a pension.”

Given that New York State has had 18 state legislators leave office or lose re-election since 1999 after getting into legal trouble, we want to know: How much has the state been paying to such disgraced lawmakers who’ve been eligible for pensions?

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What we found

New York State has paid at least $2.6 million in pension checks to 12 of the 18 ex-legislators who have been embroiled in criminal cases  — some of whom are still sitting in jail — with the largest accumulated amount, $564,210, going to former Sen. Guy Velella (see table below).

“It’s an absolute outrage. They should have their pensions stripped if they’re convicted,” said State Senator David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown, Rockland County), who had earlier called for Kruger to forfeit his pension. Today he told the World that he wanted to see all of Kruger’s kind, including the dozen named below, voluntarily give up their pension checks.

Carlucci had been a strong supporter behind the ethics reform bill, and said it was “troubling and very unfortunate” that New York has to still pay for these lawbreaking lawmakers. “But it was the way to get this bill passed,” he added. “At least we can look forward.”The Office of State Comptroller provided us with gross monthly pension payments to each ex-legislator, which are not exact detailed figures — they leave out details like cost-of-living adjustments — but do give a pretty accurate picture of what each receives.

We took those monthly amounts and multiplied them by the number of complete months between the date of retirement and today — or the date of death, for the two (Velella and former State Sen. Anthony Seminerio) who died in January 2011.

Family members can continue to collect pension payments after a lawmaker’s death through the Survivor’s Benefit Program and other vehicles, depending on which pension plan the lawmaker participated in. Because the Comptroller doesn’t release that information, our calculations do not include death benefits.

Since it’s extremely unlikely that the ex-legislators named below would willingly give up their pensions, David Grandeau, former executive director of the State Commission on Lobbying, suggests finding alternative ways of recapturing funds. “One creative solution would be state to go after compensation from this convicted felons equal to the amount they stole from state of New York – the salaries they collected while paying bribes and committing their crimes,” he suggested. “They ought to be made to pay back somehow.”

As for the remaining legislators among the 18, the Office of State Comptroller has not received retirement applications from Carl Kruger, John Sabini, Michael Cole, Ryan Karben, or Roger Green. Hiram Monserrate retired from the New York City police force and is therefore not eligible to join New York State and Local Retirement System unless he suspends his police pension.


Legislator’s retirement date, name and district Charges and manner of leaving office Gross monthly pension payment Total pension payments to date
Jan 2011
Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr.
Lost primary last September following corruption investigation and other ethical issues. Was later indicted on various corruption charges by the Attorney General and federal prosecutors. $612 $6,734
Dec 2010
Sen. Vincent Leibell
(R-Patterson, Putnam County)
Resigned before end of Senate term and pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges. Didn’t seek re-election in 2010 and won election as Putnam County executive, but didn’t take office. Serving 21 months in prison. $5,145 $61,739
June 2009
Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio
Resigned from the Assembly after federal indictment. Pleaded guilty to single count of theft of honest services for taking bribes. Died in prison in January 2011. $5,931 $106,752
May 2009
Sen. Efrain Gonzalez, Jr.
Was indicted on federal mail fraud and lost election as result of federal investigation; he later pleaded guilty to two charges of mail fraud and two charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. $3,069 $95,153
July 2008
Sen. Joseph Bruno
(R-Brunswick, Rensselaer County)
Former powerful majority leader retired from Senate amid pending federal investigation for corruption. Was indicted on eight charges and was found guilty of two after trial. Conviction was vacated; prosecutors are seeking new trial. $8,007 $328,292
June 2008
Assemblywoman Diane Gordon
Found guilty of taking bribes; tried to steer city- owned land to a private developer in exchange for a house. Also spent two months in jail for collecting state travel expenses for free automobile trips to Albany $858 $36,049
June 2007
Assemblywoman Ada Smith
Lost primary election after being found guilty of harassment; accused of throwing coffee in a staff member’s face. Was censured by Senate minority leader for “a pattern of inappropriate, unprofessional and often abusive behavior.” $2,408 $130,013
June 2007
Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin
Resigned amidst corruption indictment; pleaded guilty to racketeering after being arrested on charges of embezzling more than $2 million in state and labor funds. $1,170 $63,158
Aug 2006
Assemblyman Clarence Norman
Found guilty on three felony counts, including intentionally soliciting illegal campaign contributions, stealing $5,000 donated to his reelection, and falsifying business records. Got one to three years in prison for judicial extortion scheme. $3,610 $22,7439
June 2004
Sen. Guy Velella
Resigned Senate after pleading guilty to bribery. He received a one-year sentence and spent 182 days in jail. Died in January 2011. $6,269 $564,210
Feb 2003
Assemblywoman Gloria Davis
Resigned after pleading guilty to taking bribes. $5,213 $552,529
May 2000
Assemblyman Gerald E. Johnson
(R-Nunda, Livingston County)
Pleaded guilty to second degree attempted burglary; felony charge required resignation from office. $3,338 $464,017
TOTAL: $2,636,084
by Pei Shan Hoe & Michael Keller
Sources: Albany Times-Union, Politics on the Hudson and the Office of the State Comptroller


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