MAY 12, 2009
A former U.S. Surgeon General has been criminally indicted for defrauding the government as New York’s health commissioner by forcing state workers to be her personal chauffeurs, shopping assistants and movers.
In a 20-count grand jury indictment, New York’s high-profile health commissioner (Dr. Antonia Novello) is charged with four felonies for defrauding the government and 16 thefts of services counts while she served from 1999 to 2006. Novello was considered a major hire for the state because she had been George H.W. Bush’s Surgeon General from 1990 to 1993.
Her violations were initially exposed earlier this year in a New York Inspector General’s report that said she billed the state’s taxpayers nearly $50,000 in overtime compensation for Health Department employees to do personal jobs. Novello made her staff buy her groceries, pick up dry cleaning, move furniture, water house plants and chauffer her and her friends around town, according to the report.
The investigation further revealed that Novello is 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 inspector general also determined 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 pleaded not guilty this week to the Albany County Grand Jury indictment.
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