Arbitrator reinstates 40 state employees in Irene fraud

A state arbitrator has reinstated 40 of the 103 state employees who resigned, retired or were fired after being implicated in the improper receipt of disaster relief after Tropical Storm Irene.

The reinstated employees must make restitution and serve suspensions ranging from 15 to 60 days, according to an announcement Wednesday by AFSCME Council 4. The employees obtained aid under the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP.

“While some state employees may have engaged in fraud regarding the D-SNAP program and have been dismissed or resigned from state service, these employees were found to have made errors that the arbitrator found warranted discipline, but not dismissal,” said Sal Luciano, executive director of Council 4.

“They exercised their due process rights, paid back the money received, were adequately disciplined and will be reinstated to their state positions,” he said.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the governor always has said that employees accused of improperly obtaining aid would be entitled to due process.

“Today’s announcement is proof of that,” Doba said. “We continue to believe that there is no room in state government for anyone who would look to defraud taxpayers. As a result of the D-SNAP investigation, those that committed some of the most egregious violations have not had their cases heard yet, and are still not employed by the state. The governor’s message was clear — public service is a privilege and any abuse of the privilege will not be tolerated.”

The administration will review each arbitration decision and determine with the attorney general’s office if there are legal grounds to appeal.

Calling a press conference on a Sunday in early December, Malloy personally announced details of what has been the administration’s only case of significant agency fraud. His initial disclosure was that 800 state employees had obtained disaster aid, with an unspecified number suspected of fraud.

Eligible households were to receive food aid ranging from $200 for a single adult to $1,202 for a family of eight.

By March, the scope of the inquiry expanded with another 240 recipients of disaster aid having been identified as state employees, bringing to 1,053 the number of state employees to benefit from the emergency aid program. There were 23,000 total applicants.

The administration determined that month that the majority of employees were entitled to the aid, with 685 cleared of wrongdoing and 128 referred for administrative review. Eventually, 103 left state service, with 78 dismissals and 25 resignations or retirements.

Doba was uncertain Wednesday evening if all 40 reinstated employees had been fired, or if some were workers who resigned or retired and then sought a return to their jobs.