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Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown Trying To Recoup $2M In Health Benefits Paid For Dead Workers | News

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Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown Trying To Recoup $2M In Health Benefits Paid For Dead Workers
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BUFFALO, NY - When they tell you that retiring from a city job comes with permanent health benefits, in some cases they're not kidding.

A new audit conducted by Buffalo City Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo reveals that the city is mistakenly paying health benefits for more than 150 deceased former city employees.

The error has cost taxpayers about $2 million, most of it coming in the last two years, SanFilippo said.

"We can sit there and allow two million dollars to just walk out the door for no reason, and we have the ability to prevent it," SanFilippo said. "That's a big deal."

The city is now trying to get the money back.

SanFilippo's audit revealed that, from 1998 through 2008, only a small number of cases (ranging from one to five) slipped through the cracks each year. But in 2009, the number exploded to 73. And again rose dramatically this year, putting the total at 152.

The dramatic rise coincides with the 2008 arrival of Human Resources Commissioner Karla Thomas, whose department oversees the benefits. Records show that both SanFilippo and Mayor Byron Brown, who has ordered a probe by his law department, warned Thomas about the problem in January.

At the time, the Mayor directed Thomas to take several steps to correct the problem.

MAYOR: We want to know which of those directives and which of those recommendations were followed, and if some were not followed, we want to know why they were not.

REPORTER: Should she be allowed to keep her job?

MAYOR: Again. We have to review this matter. We take these issues very seriously. Any loss of taxpayer dollars is absolutely unacceptable.

The Mayor does not have the authority to replace Thomas at his whim. As Human Resources Commissioner, Thomas has a fixed, six-year term to insulate her from political interference. Her term expires in 2014. Thomas also served as a top aide for several years to Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

The Mayor said he's exploring all options in terms of her Thomas' status.

REPORTER: Do you have confidence in her ability to carry out the job as commissioner?

MAYOR: You know, I think the commissioner clearly has the ability to do the job. I don't know what has resulted in us being in the position that we're in now. Obviously, I am not happy about it, not pleased about it. This is totally unacceptable. We will get to the bottom of what has occurred here and we will take corrective action.

The mayor has instructed his legal department to see if all or any of the wasted $2 million can be recouped.

Common Council David Franczyk said the council will likely hold hearings on the matter when it returns to session in September.

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