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Comptroller's Audit Finds SUNY Research Foundation Allowed Statewide Abuse

Report found abuse of funds and conflicts of interest in hiring practices and contract handling.

New York State's SUNY Research Foundation abused taxpayer dollars and employed questionable hiring practices over several years, according to a report released Monday by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“For too long, SUNY Research Foundation employees took advantage of lax oversight to cheat taxpayers, skirt state laws and violate the foundation’s own policies,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The Research Foundation needs to vastly improve its internal controls, budgetary oversight, and ensure compliance with all relevant laws and policies. The foundation needs to recover all misspent funds immediately and fundamentally change how it operates.”

Among the report's findings:

In September 2010, a state retiree, who had returned to employment at SUNY Stony Brook, was hired by the Research Foundation and placed on the Research Foundation payroll when the retiree’s compensation on the Stony Brook payroll neared the $30,000 cap. It appears that the hiring by the Research Foundation was to enable the retiree to avoid the retirement and Social Security law limitations.

The audit also found Edgar H. Turkle III, a senior SUNY Research Foundation official at Buffalo State College, charged more than $130,000 in 348 instances for personal spending on his foundation-issued credit card between November 2007 and November 2011. He has been fired and the case is being handled in criminal courts. The audit also found nearly $3 million in contracts that "involved a potential conflict of interest and violated Research Foundation policy."

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said in a statement that the result of the audit "is a markedly improved organization."

“From the beginning, SUNY and RF leadership have viewed the audit as an opportunity to acknowledge past problems and pledged full cooperation," she said. "The comptroller’s findings are confirmation that change was necessary."

Zimpher said the foundation has implemented new policies and procedures in response to the audit, which was conducted between July of 2008 and January of 2012. Among those changes, she said the foundation did the following:

Instituted new protocols that raise the standards of accountability of officers and employees alike, and set clear expectations of ethical behavior; reviewed its policies and procedures relating to procurement, contractual and transactional work across the operation; strengthened its governance and attracted new members to its Board of Directors, each of who brings different and diverse skill sets and valuable expertise to the table.

The SUNY Research Foundation was established in 1951 as a private, nonprofit
educational corporation that would support research and discovery at its 30 colleges and universities. Headquartered in Albany, it is governed by a 15-member board and the state's chancellor of education serves as ex officio chair. It manages nearly $1 billion in SUNY research activity each year.

John October 22, 2012 at 08:01 PM
These are the people teaching the furture" GREATEST MINDS IN THE WORLD". The state keeps awarding millions in tax payer money for these foundations, grants, research projects, etc. If more audits, and watchdogs were allowed to look into half of what is spent in the name of progress and research, there would be no SUNY system, just a long paper trail of vacations, hotels and who knows what else!!! Look what the 2008 audit of the SUNY Stony Brook hospital billing system turned up. Millions in over charges to patients!!
Thirty Year Resident. October 23, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Circa 2008 In the Dental school one of the professors retired on a Friday with all the pomp and circumstance and a party to boot, only to start again on Monday in a new office and a new salary as a "consultant" True story, I was there.
Truffuls October 23, 2012 at 01:32 PM
This has been going on for the 20 years I've been here. Faculty constantly switch back and forth between payrolls to stay ahead of the game. Employees hired on the RF payroll are only to do Research Foundation work. That doesn't even remotely happen here. I had a supervisor when I first started who did nothing but state work, yet she was paid on the RF payroll. Big wigs on campus avoid all the crap of State hiring procedures by bringing people in on RF and later making the switch.
Ronnie October 23, 2012 at 05:44 PM
My experience with SUNY central and their Auditors is that they ignore or deny reports of fraudulent activity. In my case, SUNY central saw nothing wrong with, and even condoned a financial settlement offer in exchange for a signed release of my claims. Hush money resolves nothing and I declined the offer. Even when the "whistleblower" policy claims there will be no retaliation, that policy is selective to those who are accused of any wrongdoing. SUNY has a lot of dirt piled under the rug and they will get another slap on the wrist with their vow to do better. When SUNY ignores legitimate tips of corruption on SUNY campuses they are ignoring their very own policies and procedures.This is an environment that we expect "professionals" to teach our students by example not by manipulation!
Truffuls October 23, 2012 at 06:38 PM
What is taught, by example, is that there is always a way around a restriction or procedure. Not that I condone the activity I see happening on this campus, but sometimes, with these massive gov't agencies, the only way to get anything done is to skirt the system. And many times, it is because the system has failed, is broken or is antiquated. The SUNY "Mothership" has rigid and antiquated policies that prohibit us from getting our jobs done in a cost effective, efficient manner. An example is being forced to buy items that are grossly over priced just because the state has a contract with the vendor. We could save a ton if we were allowed to select another competitively-priced vendor. One of the big practices here is to hide non-sanctioned items in orders for office supplies. Staples and Officemax carry a huge inventory of non-work related items: coffee/tea, candy, soups, snacks, items for personal use, etc...

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