New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli yesterday revoked the membership of four attorneys in the state's pension system, including two from an Albany firm that has served as bond counsel on hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds for school districts.

The membership terminations come as part of an ongoing review of the pension system by the comptroller's office to see if attorneys have been improperly listed as employees.

DiNapoli has said he is cooperating with an investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into whether attorneys working in school districts and municipalities across the state have been fraudulently receiving benefits as employees.

The comptroller's office yesterday revoked the retirement membership of Maureen Harris and rescinded service credit for M. Cornelia Cahill. Both are attorneys at Girvin & Ferlazzo PC, an Albany firm that last month had another five attorneys also lose state benefits.

Also removed from the state's retirement system yesterday were attorneys Maria Massaro, who performed work for the Niagara Falls Central School District, William Cullen, who did work for the Franklin Square Union Free School District, and Nathan Swergold, who was wrongly reported as an employee of the Hempstead Sanitary District, the comptroller said in a press release.

Last month the comptroller's office revoked retirement memberships for Girvin & Ferlazzo attorneys Kathy Ann Wolverton, Kristine Lanchantin, Jeffrey Honeywell, and partner James Girvin. The comptroller's office also revoked service credit for firm partner Salvatore Ferlazzo. According to the comptroller's office, the five attorneys were reported as having worked as full-time employees and working a total of 1,157 days at theHamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Education Services, but had only worked a total of 196 days.

According to the comptroller's office, the Girvin attorneys named yesterday had been listed as employees at BOCES, which allow school districts to pool resources for special education.

Since 2002, Girvin & Ferlazzo has served as bond counsel on 135 deals totalling $657.3 million for school districts in the state, according to Thomson Reuters data. About half of that, $332.4 million was done in 2002, and in the last two years their bond counsel business for school districts slowed considerably, down to just eight deals totalling $5.7 million last year. Most of the deals tended to be smaller issues, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or low millions, though a few were higher including a $36.7 million deal for the Ballston-Spa Central District in Saratoga County in 2002.

The firm was also used as underwriter's counsel in 11 deals totalling $211 million on bonds issued by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York from 2003 to 2005, which included at least two BOCES deals.

Clifford Moses, superintendent of the Galway Central School District in Saratoga, that used Girvin as bond counsel on the school district's $253,000 bond issue last year said he had been happy with the firm's work.

"I would continue to use them as bond counsel because they have done excellent work for us at a reasonable price," Moses said in an e-mail. None of the attorneys at the firm were ever listed as employees in his district, he said.

Calls and e-mails to the firm were not returned.

DiNapoli and Cuomo launched their investigations last month following a series of articles in Newsday that found several attorneys in Long Island who were receiving benefits as full-time employees for multiple school districts while working as independent contractors for those districts. Cuomo plans to announce new developments in the investigation today.

 

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