A veteran state auditor pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing US$1.2 million that was supposed to be used to help the mentally ill. Under the plea deal, he will face up to 10 years in prison and must sell his collection of Corvettes.
The auditor, James Leggiero, 50, admitted in Albany County Court that while working at the state's Office of Mental Health he had created a sham company and approved more than 80 payments to it, ranging from US$700 to US$99,000, over nine years.
"In my official capacity, I authorized these payments," Leggiero, a 27-year veteran, told Judge Thomas Breslin.
Leggiero pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny in the first degree, a felony. The plea agreement he reached with the state attorney general's office calls for him to face a sentence of three to 10 years in prison, pay the US$1.2 million back to the state and agree not to seek government work in the future.
A sentencing date was set for July.
Leggiero, who owns five Corvettes, including one from 1958, has agreed to sell many of his possessions to begin repaying the state, his lawyer, Stephen Coffey, said after the court appearance. Coffey said Leggiero's wife would be allowed to keep their house, where she lives with the couple's two children.
Asked why Leggiero pleaded guilty,Coffey said: "Well, because the proof was overwhelming. He wanted to put it behind him. He knows he's guilty."
Leggiero's scheme worked for nearly nine years, until November, when through a new procedure in the state comptroller's office it appeared that Leggiero's checks were going to a post office box, which raised a red flag.
Further investigation showed that the company had no telephone number, another red flag.
The comptroller's office referred the matter to the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in February. Cuomo said the case demonstrated his office's commitment to public integrity cases.
"We want to make sure that people across the state know that their tax dollars are well spent," he said.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said his office would be looking for other unusual contracts.