Diane M. Cecero, age 64, of Pittsford, New York, admitted today to unlawfully “double-dipping” and receiving state retirement benefits to which she was not entitled. She agreed to pay back those benefits, with interest, as part of a pretrial diversion agreement.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“For the six years Ms. Cecero was general counsel to Monroe Community College, she unlawfully took $85,000 in state pension benefits on top of her six figure salary,” State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “As a result of our investigation, she must repay the money with interest. I thank United States Attorney Jaquith for prosecuting this case.”
United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith said: “Thanks to the thorough investigation by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations, improper retirement benefits are being repaid with interest. We are committed to continued work with the Office of the Comptroller to safeguard the public fisc and use all appropriate means to secure restitution and individual accountability for violations of law.”
From 1982 to 1996, Cecero was an Assistant Attorney General with the New York State Attorney General’s Office (NYAG). In that job, she earned retirement credits as a participant in the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).
In 1996, she left the NYAG to become the Legal and Labor Relations Officer at Monroe Community College (MCC), part of the State University of New York. Cecero eventually became General Counsel of MCC and was employed there until August 2015.
When she left the NYAG, Cecero retained her membership in NYSLRS, but she stopped earning NYSLRS service credit. When she joined MCC, Cecero chose to join the SUNY Optional Retirement Program (SUNY ORP), a public retirement system separate from NYSLRS.
As part of the diversion agreement, Cecero admitted that while employed with MCC, she falsely filled out an Application for Service Retirement, dated April 3, 2008, which caused NYSLRS to pay to her approximately $85,000 in retirement benefits to which she was not entitled during the years 2008 through 2014. Cecero also admitted that while drawing retirement benefits from NYSLRS, she also participated in SUNY ORP.
The practice of drawing retirement benefits while remaining a public employee is informally known as “double-dipping,” and is prohibited under state law with few exceptions, none of which applied to Cecero. Additionally, while she was improperly receiving retirement benefits from NYSLRS, Cecero unlawfully participated in a second retirement plan, SUNY ORP, to which her then-employer MCC contributed more than $100,000 for her benefit.
The United States Attorney’s Office filed a wire fraud charge against Cecero. As part of the pretrial diversion agreement, it agreed that it would dismiss the charge if, within 18 months, Cecero paid total restitution of $156,918.20: $116,918.20 to NYSLRS and an additional $40,000 to MCC. As part of the agreement, Cecero did not admit to committing fraud or to any criminal wrongdoing.
This case was investigated by the Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Barnett and Cyrus P.W. Rieck.
Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236. Review prior cases at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/investigations/index.htm