Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday blasted the MTA’s decision not to hire a former prosecutor to investigate alleged overtime fraud within its workforce, including at the LIRR, and vowed his pick for a new MTA internal watchdog will be “as serious as a heart attack.”
Speaking on WNYC radio’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Cuomo criticized the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for not supporting a proposal made by one of his representatives on the board, Lawrence Schwartz, to hire a former prosecutor to independently investigate potential overtime fraud at the MTA.
At its monthly meeting last week, the board — under pressure from labor representatives — opted instead to hire a consultant to review time and attendance procedures at the MTA.
“I believe the [MTA] board is not taking this seriously enough,” said Cuomo, who noted that both the Queens district attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Southern District Office are both looking into claims of overtime fraud among MTA laborers. “They spoke about hiring a special counsel . . . which is the prudent course for a board of directors. They then did an about-face, I understand at the last board meeting, and said, ‘We do not have a legal issue, so we will only hire a consultant.’ No, you do have a legal issue.”
Cuomo added that, “When it comes to illegal activity . . . I think the MTA board has been cavalier. I don’t think they’ve shown commuters the proper respect in their response.”
In a statement Tuesday, MTA spokesman Maxwell Young said authority chairman Patrick Foye and the rest of the MTA’s leadership team “agree with the Governor that we must have a zero tolerance approach to theft, fraud and abuse.”
The heightened scrutiny of overtime at the MTA follows the release of a report by the Empire Center for Public Policy that revealed an unusually high rate of overtime collected by some employees, especially those at the Long Island Rail Road.
The report revealed that six of the top 10 earners at the MTA last year were LIRR workers, whose senior status allowed them to significantly increase their take-home pay by piling on overtime. LIRR chief measurement officer Thomas Caputo was the MTA’s highest-paid employee last year, making $344,147 in overtime on top of his base salary of $117,499, according to the report.
Two days after the MTA’s decision not to hire a former prosecutor to investigate possible overtime fraud, the MTA’s longtime inspector general, Barry Kluger, unexpectedly announced his retirement. On the same day, a source with knowledge of the situation said Cuomo had tapped Carolyn Pokorny, his special counsel for public integrity, to become the new MTA inspector general, whose office is responsible for combating waste, fraud, misconduct and corruption by the MTA and its contractors.
While not specifying his pick for the position, Cuomo told Lehrer that he would be nominating “a new inspector general who is a former federal prosecutor and is as serious as a heart attack.”
Pokorny previously worked for nearly 15 years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and also served as deputy chief of staff and counselor to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
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