Testimony: Unchecked state authority paid `bonuses' for Sept. 11 work


October 17, 2005, 5:14 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- Some state employees reaped thousands of dollars worth of "bonuses" as perks for their work after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a state official testified Monday.

Robert Ryan, who headed the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. after working as Gov. George Pataki's campaign manager, said at an Assembly committee hearing that he increased his six-figure salary and the pay of all 14 of his employees with the bonuses.

The extra compensation wasn't approved by the authority's board of directors as required by the agency's own rules.

But Ryan said he obtained approval from his chief financial officer to compensate staff working at the World Trade Center site after he saw an employee crying over the traumatic assignment. The bonuses were paid in cash or days off.

"We have evidence of compensation to top management when, as far as I know, firemen and police of the city got no extra bonuses for doing worse, more grotesque work," Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said after the hearing of his authorities committee .

The committee is investigating reports of abuse, political hiring, and a lack of oversight at hundreds of state authorities.

Authorities were created by the Legislature to be independent of the governor and politics to run specific services including the state Thruway, New York mass transit and economic development.

Yet on Monday, Ryan testified that Pataki's office gave him a job running the Roosevelt Island authority after he apparently fell out of favor working at the Empire State Development Corp.

Ryan said he received 234 hours of bonus time _ worth $13,859 according to a 2003 internal report _ of "World Trade Center Appreciation Bonuses." His base salary at that time was $121,143, according to the report, which Brodsky released Monday.

Ryan offered no apologies for taking the bonuses, which he said he only accepted after his employees insisted.

"I know what I saw, it changed me forever, I carried body bags. It was a horrific scene," Ryan said. "In hindsight I probably should have gone with my gut, but I offer no apologies."

Ryan, 49, said the Empire State Development Corp., headed by longtime Pataki confidant Charles Gargano, also handed out World Trade Center bonuses, to office staffers who helped relocate displaced businesses.

"Now we have proof and evidence that these authorities have been used as cash cows and patronage mills by the Pataki administration," Brodsky said.

Several bills are pending to reform what Brodsky called the "huge Soviet-style bureaucracy" of public authorities.

The Pataki administration responded with a brief prepared statement by the Roosevelt Island authority's current president, Herbert Berman. He said the issues in the hearing had been addressed two years ago.

Ryan is now advising the 2006 campaign for governor of Randy Daniels, the former secretary of state appointed by Pataki. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat, is among several Democrats exploring a run for attorney general in 2006.

The Legislature created the Roosevelt Island authority in 1984 to manage and develop the 147-acre island in the East River.