Steal Millions, Go to Jail, Retire on a $14,000 Month Tax-Payer Funded Pension

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Newsday is reporting ($) that Frank Tassone, the former Superintendent of the Roslyn, NY school system, will be granted early release from prison Tuesday. Tassone was convicted for his role in an $11-million embezzlement scheme. He used money stolen from the District for Botox treatments, mortgage payments and first-class trips to Europe at taxpayers expense. Six people pleased guilty in the scheme, including four district employees. Among those who plead guilty was former Assistant Superintendent for Business Pamela Gluckin who stole $4.3 million from the district. She is still in jail.

Happily for these crooks, everyone of the district employees convicted of looting the public treasury continue to receive their lucrative pensions. Newsday reports that "Tassone will continue to get his annual state pension of $173,495.04 in monthly installments, as he did while in prison."

New York Magazine did an excellent long-form piece on Tassone which may ring familiar to New Rochelle residents: The Bad Superintendent

After Gluckin was caught stealing $250,000, Tassone addressed the school board:

Tassone made a moving, eloquent argument for compassion and leniency. The culprit, Pam Gluckin, had tearfully confessed, he said. Her marriage was falling apart, she was ill, she’d been desperate. And if the board didn’t press charges, she’d agree to quietly resign, give up her administrator’s license, and give back the money right away...[otherwise] What, Tassone said, would happen to property values? His message was clear: No good could come from going public. Voters could hardly be expected to reelect school-board members who’d let something like that happen in a place like this. And he was probably right. But what the board couldn’t have known was that Tassone was not just protecting Pam Gluckin. He was also protecting himself.

This is good reason why New Rochelle residents should be concerned when the district fails to even investigate let alone prosecute employees who steal, convert public property to private use, assault students, deal drugs, falsify billing records, approve no-bid contracts, run vermin-infected cafeterias, pay union leaders six-figures salaries while working less than an hour a day, transmit pornographic images of children to other district employees, allow school board members to run up expenses accounts many times more than comparable area school districts, and so on. Looking back now, the residents of Roslyn in Long Island can surely see there were red flags galore but they were so enamored with the "award-winning" image of the school system and the desire to maintain property values that they put their head in the sand.

Tassone was pretty clever, according to New York magazine:

Every new program Tassone started played into Roslyn’s sense of pride—or, perhaps, vanity. He brought foreign-language classes into the elementary schools, and a “values education” curriculum to the high school, including the community-service requirement. He embraced senior citizens by starting discussion groups and hosting an annual community dinner-dance—scheduled, shrewdly, right before the annual vote on the school budget. School employees learned to look forward to birthday cards signed “Dr. Tassone,” and congratulatory gift baskets on anniversaries. And he disarmed potential dissenters face to face, meeting by meeting—sitting still as an owl at his office’s conference table, hands folded in his lap, head nodding.

Sound familiar? It should.

The New Rochelle system is now rolling out a new Mandarin language program into the elementary schools, touting Haitian relief efforts undertaken at the public schools, giving away netbook computers to fifth-graders, holding its "Fund for Excellence" Foundation Awards Gala in just a few weeks before the budget vote in May. All of it right out of the Tassone playbook.

A compliant, passive and untrained school board allowed Tassone and his cronies to get away with stealing millions for over a decade:

According to Nassau County prosecutors, Frank Tassone had spent his twelve years in Roslyn quietly running one of the most audacious scams ever to afflict a public-school system. The coffers were plundered in practically every imaginable way—expense-account padding, vendor-bidding violations, check-record fabrications, even the creation of phony businesses.

Again, sound familiar?

Expense-account padding?

The Journal news reported that the New Rochelle Board of Education expense spending was many times higher than the boards in Mount Vernon and Yonkers, the district flat out lied in a FOIL request claiming that there were no records of then-school board President Cindy Babcock-Deutsch being reimbursed for expenses by the District when she had been reimbursed,

Vendor-bidding violations?

The New York State Comptroller cited the district for falsely stamping invoices as "emergency" to justify no-bid contracts. We raised questions here about the districts questionable dealings with disgraced restauranter Brian MacMenamin.

Creation of phony businesses?

One employee arrested for larceny was also charged by the District Attorney with falsifying billing records, creating companies that he owned that then did business with the district.

The New York magazine asks a question that New Rochelle residents might want to ponder: "Did Frank Tassone deceive Roslyn, or, out of a desire to give its children the best, did Roslyn allow itself to be deceived by Frank Tassone?"

It is easy for anyone running a school district to respond to any challenge to their management by demagoguing the issue by hiding behind "the children". The people running are New Rochelle are quite adept at using this tactic and playing the game just like Frank Tassone did in Roslyn. Likewise, the district will argue that any incident cited is an "isolated incident". Of course this is always the case, right? Each murder committed by a serial killer is an "isolated incident" if you want to look at it that way. They might also argue that $14,000 in phony electrical service invoices or $10,000 in phony time sheets for an HVAC engineer or driving around all weekend with a school district van or running up a few thousand in travel expenses small potatoes and in the scheme of things they would be right when compared to what ultimately became known about Tassone and his fellow crooks. However, that $11 million, 12-year long scheme to loot the Roslyn School District did not begin with one person stealing $11mm It began with charging a Rolex watch here and a plane ticket to Las Vegas there and then mushroomed to the point where the Assistant Superintendent got caught doing something that led to the revelation that $250,000 was missing that led to the arrests of 6 people for stealing millions of dollars.

It is too much to ask that we do not have any drug dealers, child pornographers, liars, cheats and thieves working for the district?

With all of the examples of corruption Talk of the Sound has reported over the past 18 months, and what we know went on before our our launch in 2008, residents should be especially concerned about the District's penchant for flaunting the two laws most designed to protect the interests of citizens against their government: the open meeting law and the freedom of information law. When any government entity -- and a school district is a government entity -- refuses to promptly provide access to public records or hold secret meetings that are required to be held in public -- that is as sure a sign as any that the government entity has something to hide. When you compound that by the many "isolated" incidents that have occurred in New Rochelle even the most passive, accepting, gullible resident of New Rochelle might start to wake up and say "wait a minute".

New Rochelle may or may not have the same level of corruption as Roslyn but for those who care to look all the warning flags are there.

A few other tidbits from the article worth mentioning:

During working lunches, Tassone would go on about how the school district should act like any private corporation with an $80 million budget. “He thought the salaries of administrators should be as high as possible,” says Piemonte. “That these jobs had a great deal of subtlety and required education. He’d say, ‘Look at the CEO of IBM—they’re making zillions and we’re making $200,000.’ ”

Go check the increases for administrators in New Rochelle over the past few years. Massive.

When an anonymous letter made accusations that Tassone had been embezzling money to support his lavish lifestyle, he went on the attack:

...the community believed him. Some even praised him for being so forthcoming. While spending perhaps a bit too much time trying to find out who the author was, Tassone had little trouble finding ways to discredit the letter itself: The district’s return address on the envelope was misspelled; so was Tassone’s name.

Residents in New Rochelle are afraid of the district for precisely this reason - dare to criticize the district and they will try to make you the issue. In my case, the district has hired a private investigator, had people calling my neighbors, had their lawyers call my web hosting provider in an absurd attempt to get them to take down my web site.

As the amounts of the fraud grew from $250,000 to over a million the residents of Roslyn woke up -- but it was already way to late.

Once-sleepy school-board meetings became last spring as stormy as Knesset hearings, lit garishly by those TV crews the board had feared two years earlier. Still, the target of Roslyn’s anger wasn’t Tassone; it was the school board...At an explosive April board meeting, Tom Hession, the attorney who had advised the board in 2002, insisted that he had been telling the board only what was legal, not ethical. Andrew Miller also defended himself, noting that auditors for New York State school districts aren’t supposed to be looking for outright fraud, just irregularities.

At this point, the importance of being able to obtain public records became clear:

By late April, Tassone’s office was under siege. Gluckin’s records were rapidly turning out to be fiction. Newsday was filing almost daily public-information requests, uncovering check records for hundreds of thousands of dollars with companies that, once contacted, said they’d received nowhere near that amount. Slowly, others besides Costigan started wondering how Tassone couldn’t have known about this.

Now consider this exchange:

When Tassone met with Costigan and board member Karen Bodner the next day, Costigan was angry enough to suggest that Tassone consider resigning. But Tassone brushed him off.

“Look at my contract,” they recall Tassone saying. “It covers all ‘reasonable expenses.’ ”

“Maybe we should have bought your clothes, too?” Costigan asked.

“Well, that’s a matter of opinion,” said Tassone.

“What if the D.A. indicts you on this?” Costigan asked.

“That’ll never happen,” said Tassone.

OK? Now consider this line from the first page of this document from the recent auditor's report.

...as related to the insufficient accounting controls and the availability of cash receipts and cash disbursements records for the Isaac E. Young Middle School...

This is the same school where the test scores are being falsified, where the principal, Anthony Bongo, is lying to County Health Inspectors about smoking cigars on school grounds, a violation of state law, NYSED policy and district policy, where there have been numerous reports that certain school officials use the security guards as personal valets to run errands such as picking up their personal dry cleaning, where the district had to pay of on a lawsuit involving the "noose" incident, where another lawsuit was filed involving a student with two broken arms, etc.

When the day of reckoning comes at Isaac E. Young Middle School, the New Rochelle board of education will not have the same luxury as they had in Roslyn of claiming no one told them what was going on over there.

The feelings of Faith Russo at Tassone's final public appearance as Superintendent could just as easily have been a New Rochelle parent.

“We’re your supporters,” said Faith Russo, a mother of two boys at Harbor Hill Elementary. “Why do we have to hear about this from someone else?”

Russo was shocked to see Tassone pointing at her, screaming: “You’re going to listen to me! You’re going to listen to me!” “He wouldn’t let her finish,” says Denyse Dreksler, another mother. “He went from being the therapist to the manic.”

Russo’s heart sank. She realized she was upsetting a powerful person in her life. “I was afraid my kids were gonna get custodians as teachers,” she says.

School board members wonder why parents do not show up for board meetings? They are terrified! For just the reason expressed by Faith Russo.

Now see if this last bit rings a bell?

It also helped that Tassone appears to have stocked the district with friends. There was a district clerk, Debra Rigano, who arranged travel for the administrators for those trips to Vegas, New Orleans, Boston, and London, and who moonlighted with a travel agency that gave her commissions for her bookings. (One frequent companion of Tassone’s on those trips, it turns out, was his apparent apartment mate, WordPower CEO Steve Signorelli.) Rigano’s aunt happens to be Pam Gluckin, and even after Gluckin resigned in 2002, Rigano was kept on. She was finally let go the same day Tassone resigned, after it was discovered Tassone approved a one-hour overtime charge for her of $1,081.

There was also Tom Galinski, the buildings-and-grounds supervisor, who once worked in the same district as Gluckin and who flew at no expense with Tassone on many of those trips to Las Vegas. Before being hired by Roslyn, Galinski had worked for a contractor he subsequently recommended to redo Roslyn High’s leaking roof. When the leak persisted, Roslyn hired them to do it again, and again, and again.

And there was Al Razzetti, a personnel consultant whom Tassone made an internal auditor—rubber-stamping every bill and check Tassone and Gluckin wrote. Tassone kept him on the payroll even after the board declined to renew his contract. Finally, Razzetti had a sister, Fran Pertusi, whom Tassone made a consultant, earning $300,000 over nine years. Pertusi happened to be a close friend of Tassone’s from his days as superintendent in Levittown.

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