- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Wednesday night in a candidates’ debate that his office is continuing to review expense payments to state legislators, like the audit that led to criminal charges against an assemblyman two weeks ago.

Republican challenger Robert Antonacci is seeking to replace DiNapoli as New York’s chief financial officer. In their debate, DiNapoli was asked if he was doing a broad-based review of the 213 state legislators’ expenses.

“We do it in a careful way. We don’t do it in a cavalier way,” he said. “If we find a problem we work with prosecutors because we’re not prosecutors.”

One current and one former legislator were indicted from the work that came out of the comptroller’s office, among 80 officials were charged and $12 million was recovered from criminal cases, he said.

“We are doing it right. We do continue to review payments in this area,” DiNapoli said. “If we find others who are violating the rules of per diem, they are going to be hearing from the prosecutors as well.”

Assemblyman William Scarborough, a 68-year-old Queens Democrat, pleaded not guilty Oct. 1 to state and federal charges that he improperly spent campaign funds and expense money.

Antonacci, a certified public accountant and lawyer in his second term as Onondaga County’s comptroller, said DiNapoli should have been doing more with his former colleagues and establishing internal financial controls to prevent financial abuse.

“It’s very easy to go in and see money that is stolen after the fact,” Antonacci said. “It’s how you set up internal control apparatuses so money is not stolen in the first place.”

A former longtime Democratic assemblyman, DiNapoli has been state comptroller for seven years.

At stake in the race is stewardship of the state’s $181 billion pension fund for public workers and nearly 600 auditors who examine state and municipal finances.

Antonacci promised, if elected, to be more independent and aggressively audit some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s programs, such as last year’s Start-Up NY initiative to establish tax-free zones to attract businesses. He said he thinks the program is “destined for failure.”

DiNapoli said his office has to wait for programs to be operating awhile before a record has accumulated that can be audited. He noted that his office’s reviews of Cuomo administration budgets, identifying an unlikely surplus, out-year deficits and “just telling it like it is,” have met with criticism and pushback from administration officials.

On pension fund investments, Antonacci said his sole focus would be on maximizing the return to the fund as long as the companies and ventures they invest in aren’t breaking any laws. He said his review of funds that engage in investor activism, like DiNapoli does with New York’s fund, shows they don’t perform as well financially.

DiNapoli said New York’s fund recently received the highest rating among the 25 largest public pension funds from Moody’s. The shareholder activism, for example calling on companies to disclose potential environmental damage and risks from what they do, protect the investments, he said.

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