Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is looking into the controversial stipends for eight state senators.
ALBANY — The state attorney general’s office and a federal prosecutor are both looking into the payouts of thousands of dollars in questionable stipends to state senators who were identified in pay records as committee chairs when they weren’t, the Daily News has learned.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office and the U.S. Attorney Eastern District office each have requested documents from state Controller Thomas DiNapoli related to the matter, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said.
“Both requests happened very rapidly after the news of the payments in question broke,” the source said.
In order for Schneiderman to launch a criminal investigation, it would need a formal referral from the controller’s office. It’s unclear whether such a referral was made.
Schneiderman’s office, however, could simply seek records preliminarily or can launch a civil probe without a referral.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District could be involved because at least two senators who received questionable stipends — Jose Peralta, a Queens Democrat, and Diane Savino, a Staten Island Dem who represents parts of Brooklyn — fall within that office’s jurisdiction, the source said.
A Schneiderman spokesman had no comment. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday night.
Diane Savino, a Staten Island Dem who represents parts of Brooklyn is one of eight recipients of the controversial stipend.
(Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)
DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said "we cannot confirm or deny if we are cooperating with law enforcement officials."
The Senate stipend process has come under fire the past week after it was revealed that in recent years eight senators received committee chairmen stipends even though they did not lead the panels on the records submitted by the Senate to the state Controller’s Office.
Three members of the breakaway Senate Independent Democratic Conference, including Peralta and Savino, and five Senate Republicans were the recipients of the dubious stipends.
This year alone, three Senate Republicans held chairmanships of lesser paying committees but instead took the higher stipends from the panels where they served as vice chairs, which under law do not come with pay. Senators are not allowed to take more than one committee or leadership stipend.
Word of the reviews surfaced hours after Gov. Cuomo said if there was any wrongdoing, the fault lies with DiNapoli for paying out stipends that might not have been unlawful.
"It’s the comptroller’s opinion whether or not that was legal," Cuomo said. "If it was not legal, the comptroller shouldn’t have done it. If it’s not legal, the comptroller should call up and say, ‘Whoops, I made a mistake, I need the money back.’"
State Sen. Jose Peralta is another target in the investigation.
(Shant Shahrigian/New York Daily News)
When word of the stipend controversy first broke, Freeman said, "the Senate determines who gets paid what stipend consistent with state law and the practices of the house. 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."
After Cuomo made his comments Thursday, Freeman told The News, “the comptroller’s office is not a court of law. This issue needs to be decided by the Senate itself or the legal system."
Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein have insisted the stipend payouts were perfectly legal. A legal opinion from Senate GOP counsel David Lewis released Saturday night said the committee chairman title in the paperwork submitted with the controller’s office was used as a type of accounting code rather than to identify the title of specific senators receiving the stipends.
But a Senate Democrat legal opinion said the payment of stipends to vice and deputy vice chairs who were listed as committee chairs was unlawful. Senate Democrat Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins earlier this week called for an investigation as have two government reform groups.
Senate sources recently told The News that a lack of agreement in December on the first legislative pay raise since 1999, an attempt to keep Klein and his members happy, and Flanagan’s desire to appease a number of his own upstate Republican members all played a part in the unusual pay outs.