Conners audit finds payroll, political transgressions 

Michael Conners

Michael Conners

ALBANY COUNTY — Outgoing Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners’s scorched-earth swan song rolled on this week as his office released findings that purport to show instances of crooked payroll practices, and that County Executive Daniel McCoy not only knew about campaign work being performed on county time but directed some of it as well.

“We adamantly deny Mr. Conners’ general allegation of payroll fraud or abuse and it appears he does not understand the fundamental elements of the payroll system after more than two decades as county comptroller,” Albany County Director of Communications Mary Rozak said in a statement.

The audit began after discussions with four high-ranking county officials — one elected, three appointed — in 2017 and 2018, Conners said on Thursday. 

The officials had raised concerns over the “veracity of time and attendance, and whether people show up for work or not,” Conners said. After telling these officials he’d need to see some sort of proof, Conners said, they scoffed at coming forward — even if they were granted whistleblower protection.

Eventually, Conners said, one person did come forward and was granted whistleblower status by his office. 

The whistleblower shared “a tawdry list” of allegations including the filing of false instruments, for example, filing a padded or falsified timesheet; seldom-show jobs; ghost employees; and the use of county offices, vehicles, and workers for political campaign work.

“You’re worried about that,” Conners said of the allegations made by the whistleblower. “Is that true? It’s just some of these allegations — is it an ax to grind or not? Well, over the period of several months, in the negotiations discussions with that employee, there was significant, we believe, credible proof that these allegations were correct.”

Conners said his office turned over to Albany County’s district attorney about 800 emails that it had received from the whistleblower, in which he estimated about 400 emails “clearly demonstrate” that McCoy was aware of people in his administration who were performing campaign work on county time.

“And that, in fact, there were emails that show ... a list of who was being asked to work, who was showing up, and who wasn’t showing up,” Conners added.

Conners said the emails appear to substantiate allegations made about some county employees who had been purported to have been working on McCoy’s 2015 re-election campaign on county time, including the commissioner of human resources; the chief information officer and current current counsel to the county executive; the director of parks and recreation; an investigator from the county attorney’s office; the deputy elections inspector; the deputy commissioner of general services; the special projects coordinator the sheriff’s office; the commissioner of general services; the senior policy analyst in the county executive’s office; a policy analyst in the county executive’s office; and a clerk-typist from the department of public works. 

A forensic auditor was brought in to examine seven-and-a-half years’ worth of payroll records — 12.2 million in all — and allegedly found:

— A number of employees had manually entered their time into the county’s Kronos time-and-attendance tracking system rather than using their employee swipe cards, which is a violation of the county’s rules and regulations;

— Too many departments with too many employees, called payroll liaisons, who had access to the Kronos time-and-attendance system, which gave them the ability to change other employees’ time;

— Payroll liaisons manually entering time and attendance for employees from other departments;

— One-hundred-and-sixty-three employees who had received close to a total of $693,000 in “Out of Title Pay,” meaning they were receiving a salary for a position in which they were not qualified;

— Employees being punched or swiped into work at locations outside of their home departments;

— A general failure to adhere to 1999 Rules and Regulations for Albany County Employees, which “calls question into the accuracy of the payroll and whether or not the hours paid for were actually worked,” according to the interim audit report;

— The circumvention of minimum-qualification standards required for Civil Service positions; and 

— The use of “Ghost Employees,” a budget line-item trick where a position is funded but no one is actually hired for the job; the salary is then used to pay other employees “connected to the administration more than their stated salary.”


An example

Conners used the example of an investigator whose salary appears to come from two different departments to illustrate what was meant by ghost employee.

In the Albany County budget, there is a line item for a $52,000-a-year investigator in the county attorney’s office and one for a $72,000-a-year chief criminal investigator in the public defender’s office — Conners claimed those two line items were being used to pay one person. 

The $72,000-a-year chief criminal investigator line item, Conners said, was the ghost employee because there wasn’t an actual documented worker in the job; in addition, the budget showed a smaller salary was being expended than what was requested of the county legislature for the position. 

As for the actual employee being paid from two different departments, Conners showed a copy of that employee’s 70-hour paycheck, which had two pay lines: 35 hours from the county attorney’s office and 35 hours from the public defender’s office.

In June, Conners told The Enterprise that Anthony Salerno, who had been Altamont’s public safety commissioner, was being investigated by his office. Salerno, according to Conners, was being paid for 35 hours of work each week by both the Office of the Albany County Attorney as well as the Office of the Public Defender.

Salerno resigned as Altamont’s public safety commissioner in 2011 after the state Civil Service Commission forced the resignation, citing the “clear practicability” of his passing the Civil Service exam required for him to hold the post, which he had not done during the six years he had the job.

Daniel C. Lynch, the county attorney at the time, said in a previous statement to The Enterprise about Salerno: 

“Regarding Albany County employee Anthony Salerno’s pay and hours. The Comptroller has stated that Mr. Salerno is being paid for two full time positions in Albany County. This statement is incorrect.”

However, Conners never made this assertion to The Enterprise.  

“Mr. Salerno is employed as a part-time Investigator in the Department of Law and is receiving Out of Title (OOT) pay for his work as Chief Criminal Investigator in the Public Defender’s Office,” Lynch went on.

“It may appear that Mr. Salerno is being paid for 70 hours per week, he in fact, is only being paid for 35 hours split proportionately between the two departments. 

“This method allows an employee’s time to be tracked in one timecard to avoid any concerns with overtime. This is standard procedure and Mr. Salerno’s pay and titles are documented in payroll and civil service systems, respectively.

“The method of payment to Mr. Salerno is not a unique payroll practice for Albany County. Since 2001 it has been used for over 800 county employees.”

Conners on Thursday said that the assertion that Salerno was being paid only for 17.5 hours from each department was “way wrong” because “the paycheck information generated clearly demonstrates [the employee] is being paid for 70 [hours].”

In addition, Conners said, on 600 or more occasions, the employee’s time had been documented not by someone working in either the county attorney or public defender’s office — but rather the employee’s hours were entered into the Kronos time-and-attendance system by the commissioner of the department of human resources.

Conners said the move was “highly unusual and raises huge questions about the veracity of those numbers and dates.”

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