JANUARY 27, 2009
New York’s high-profile health commissioner, a former U.S. Surgeon General, faces criminal prosecution for using her staff throughout seven years at the state’s Health Department as personal chauffeurs, shopping assistants and movers.
A New York Inspector General’s report says that Dr. Antonia Novello billed the state’s taxpayers nearly $50,000 in overtime compensation for Health Department employees to do personal jobs, including buying groceries, picking up dry cleaning, moving furniture, watering house plants and chauffeuring her and her friends around town.
Novello, U.S. Surgeon General under George H.W. Bush from 1990 to 1993, was somewhat of a “shopaholic” who routinely ordered security guards and Medicaid fraud investigators in her state agency to drive her on trips to upscale department stores and her favorite malls near the state capital.
State workers also regularly drove Novello and her mother from Albany to a New Jersey airport—about 300 miles round-trip—to fly home to Puerto Rico for personal business. During official trips between state offices in New York City and Albany, Novello usually made lengthy pit stops at outlet stores in Central Valley.
The report also says that Novello, now an executive at an Orlando Florida children’s hospital, publicly berated state employees and expected them to be available for her personal use 24 hours a day. In all, state investigators found that public employees racked up 2,500 hours of supplemental compensation to do personal jobs for the one-time Surgeon General, who this week hired a top criminal defense attorney.
This marks the latest of several public corruption scandals to hit Albany in recent months. First, disgraced Governor Eliot Spitzer got busted in a prostitution scandal that essentially ended his public career and just this week the state’s former Senate majority leader (Republican Joseph Bruno) got indicted for selling his influence as a powerful lawmaker for millions of dollars.
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