The wife and brother of a prominent state judge have reached an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office that will require them to repay more than $300,000 to settle allegations they improperly received state pension benefits.
M. Cornelia Cahill, the wife of state Court of Claims Presiding Judge Richard Sise, and John “Jack” Sise are the most recent attorneys from Girvin & Ferlazzo to be sanctioned under a joint investigation launched last spring by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. To date, Cuomo said, the public pension investigation has returned $1.24 million in settlements and involved more than 65 attorneys across the state.
Cahill’s settlement requires her to pay the state $270,000 she received while working as a labor relations specialist for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, even though there was no record of her serving in such a capacity while employed at the law firm in Albany. Cahill will also forfeit any claim to contributions she made to the pension system, according to the settlement announced Monday.
John Sise, Cahill’s brother-in-law, will pay $35,000 to the state — including $19,000 to Siena College in Loudonville — as restitution for retirement credits he wrongfully received, according to the attorney general. While serving as a counsel to Girvin & Ferlazzo, John Sise was placed on the BOCES payroll so that he would appear eligible to receive benefits during his first two years working as Siena’s director of planned giving.
“For these two lawyers, the public school system and its benefits of employment were perverted for their own benefit,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Both, along with other members of the Girvin firm, engaged in a scheme to convert the benefits of public employment into personal benefits for private lawyers,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said Cahill requested to be placed on the BOCES payroll as a labor relations specialist in 1998, but only performed minimal services for some school districts until leaving her law firm in 2006. During that time, Cuomo said, Cahill never worked as an employee of BOCES or represented the organization in labor relations.
Cahill, a former partner of Girvin & Ferlazzo, came under scrutiny in April after Cuomo and DiNapoli determined members of the firm had been improperly accumulating pension credits. Among the five partners cited in the probe, four were removed from the state retirement system.
Girvin & Ferlazzo settled those cases in June, agreeing to pay the state $500,000 and rescind pension credits for the four attorneys. At the time, Cahill declined to settle with the state, which then threatened her with further investigation.
Cahill now serves as a partner with Hisock & Barclay, and leads the firm’s financial services practice group, according to the company’s Web site. Her attorney, Daniel French, said Cahill was pleased to have resolved the matter, but asserted she never received any unearned compensation from BOCES or payments from the state pension.
“It is important to note that at all times BOCES received the services for which it contracted and that Ms. Cahill never received any state employment benefits,” he said.
Cuomo said that John Sise, who worked with Girvin & Ferlazzo between 1999 until 2001, asked Cahill and firm partners James Girvin and Kristine Lanchantin to list him as a BOCES employee so that he could bypass Siena’s two-year waiting period for eligibility in the college’s tax-deferred retirement plan. By listing his work with BOCES, he was able to show prior membership in a similar plan, thereby satisfying this waiting period, Cuomo said.
Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Geoff Davis said BOCES is pleased with the outcome of the case, but will conduct its own probe into whether the organization paid for services that were not rendered. He said BOCES is now working with other attorneys to determine if they should seek to recoup their costs.
“These two cases are very different [from] the initial [Girvin & Ferrlazo] cases,” Davis said. “There is an allegation here the work was not done.”
Thomas O’Connor, an attorney representing John Sise, characterized his client as “a man of enormous personal and professional integrity.” He said Sise never intended to do anything improper, but decided to settle the case because of the legal cost involved in defending himself.
“Consequently, in spite of the fact that BOCES received legal services for any consideration received by Mr. Sise — and the fact that he has never received any state employment benefits — he has made a business decision to resolve the matter so that he would not be distracted from his work at Siena College,” he said.