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Renzi got improper retirement credits

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Attorney David A. Renzi accrued state retirement credits for the past four years that he was not entitled to while serving as counsel for the town of Pamelia.


The Brown, Dierdorf & Renzi partner was incorrectly designated as a town employee, which made him eligible for the state benefit. But Mr. Renzi, who is running for the 48th district state Senate seat against Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, does not meet the state criteria for being an employee for several reasons, including that he does not submit time sheets to the town, work fixed hours there, have a permanent work space at the town or report to anyone at the town during each work day.


Through Pamelia, Mr. Renzi accrued 300 days of service credit and $26,539 in salary credit in the state retirement system. The attorney has received no benefits because he has not retired.


Pamelia Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway said Mr. Renzi asked to be enrolled in the state benefits system when he was hired.


"He lagged a little bit to be totally vested, so he wanted some New York state retirement time," the supervisor recalled. "Whatever benefits he wanted, whether it was New York state retirement or health insurance, we did him whatever he wanted. But he paid for it all."


Generally, employees need five years service credit to be vested, or eligible for a guaranteed retirement benefit.


Mr. Renzi had accrued more than 2,200 days of service credit before he worked for Pamelia, primarily through former jobs as Jefferson County assistant prosecutor and county public defender. He disagreed with Mr. Longway's recollection that he sought the benefit.


"When I became town attorney for the town of Pamelia, I was offered the opportunity to purchase health and other benefits from the town," he said in a statement. "I paid the entire cost of these programs out of my pocket and no taxpayer money was involved. Earlier this year, I voluntarily and, on my own initiative, withdrew from both programs, saving my family $209 per month by switching plans."


Mr. Renzi wrote a letter June 16 to the town to "reclassify" his services from employee to independent contractor, beginning of July 1.


"Please contact all appropriate agencies, advise them that I am no longer classified as an employee and have me removed from the benefit package," he wrote.


Mr. Longway said the town never called the Comptroller's Office, and Mr. Renzi did not file any letter with that state agency.


"We probably didn't do that right," said the Pamelia supervisor.


Pamelia also appeared to have erred by charging Mr. Renzi for a portion of contributions they made to the retirement system.


Enrolled members pay 3 percent of their salary toward the retirement system, while their employer pays a percentage based on total payroll.


Emily K. DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Comptroller's Office said: "An employer's contributions are supposed to be paid by the employer."


If the comptroller learned that an employee was paying their employer's share, Ms. DeSantis said: "We would contact the employer and tell them to stop the practice and inform them that they are responsible for paying the employer contribution. Then, we would review the situation to determine if any additional action is necessary."


When Mr. Renzi wrote the letter to Pamelia, he knew that his brother, Eugene P., and Paul J. Dierdorf, who both serve in his law firm, were being investigated by the Comptroller's Office.


The state agency ultimately decided Aug. 20 that the village of Adams and Carthage Central School District erred when they reported Mr. Dierdorf and Eugene Renzi as employees instead of as independent contractors.


The comptroller stripped salary credit from both men. In Mr. Dierdorf's case, his pension was lowered and the comptroller's office moved to recoup previous payments.


The Senate candidate never mentioned that he may also have been improperly classified when asked by the media about his brother and Mr. Dierdorf.


"I think it's a completely different situation," said Christopher G. McKenna, Mr. Renzi's campaign spokesman. "This is something that Dave had extended to him, that he paid for. He didn't equate the two as being comparable. He had already withdrawn himself. He thought the issue was gone and over. He had taken the steps to resolve it."


Mr. Renzi's credits from the last four years remain on his retirement benefit profile. And the issue is not resolved from the comptroller's standpoint, according to Ms. DeSantis.


"Mr. Renzi will be reviewed as part of our ongoing review of all lawyers in the retirement system," she said. "That's all I can say at this point because the review of Mr. Renzi is not complete."


Mr. Renzi does not have any credits from the town of Henderson, where he also serves as attorney. He accrued 17.34 days of service credit and $1,774.50 in salary credit while employed as a modified football coach for the Watertown City School District last year.


The Watertown Daily Times obtained Mr. Renzi's retirement profile from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which got the data through a Freedom of Information Act request.


Mr. Renzi said the Times' inquiries Tuesday and Wednesday were part of Mr. Aubertine's "whisper campaign of negative, personal attacks."


"I have always held myself to highest ethical standards," said Mr. Renzi in the statement. "My opponent wants to avoid having to answer legitimate questions that have been raised about his own unethical and illegal behavior, and misuse of taxpayer money while in office, and so has raised these issues as part of his increasingly negative campaign."

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