August 12, 2008

Supervisor Ran Consulting Business on State Time

Supervisor Ran Consulting Business on State Time

New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch announced today that he is referring the case of Larry Ritter to the Albany County District Attorney for possible prosecution of fraud, larceny and official misconduct after finding that that Ritter was paid more than $18,000 by the state for days on which he was absent and working as a private consultant.

Ritter, the Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), was fired Monday in light of the Inspector General’s report.

The Inspector General’s investigation revealed that Ritter conducted 40 private training programs from 2003 to 2007 during the state work day while falsely reporting on his timesheets that he was doing OTDA work. In addition, Ritter worked without OTDA permission, a violation of agency policy. OTDA had denied Ritter permission to conduct the private trainings, noting that the work was “virtually identical” to his OTDA job.

Ritter, 52, earned $87,383-a-year training OTDA’s 2,300 employees regarding sexual harassment and diversity matters out of the Albany office.

“State time is for state work, not for subsidizing one’s private business,” Inspector General Joseph Fisch said.

OTDA Commissioner David Hansell said: "Our agency takes these findings seriously and we have no tolerance for such violations of the public trust. Mr. Ritter has been terminated effective immediately." Hansell referred the Ritter matter to the Inspector General in September 2007.

In 2003, Ritter took an outside job as an independent contractor for the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), a private, non-profit group. In 2006, he also launched his own business, Diversity Solutions. Both offer diversity training to local government, schools, and private groups.

According to the report, Ritter:

• Gave a training at Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie for $1,500 pay plus $3,000 in tuition credit for his son while reporting that he was at his state job.

• Claimed he was at work when he conducted non-state trainings at Shenendehowa High School, the village of Port Chester and the Center for Community Justice in Albany.

• Had subordinate state employees load a PowerPoint and do other tasks for NCBI or Diversity Solutions during their state work hours.

Testimony showed that Ritter hid his misconduct from his wife, Diana Jones Ritter, who is Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Commissioner Ritter stated that she first learned of Diversity Solutions when Larry Ritter was subpoenaed by the Inspector General’s Office. Also, Larry Ritter did not inform their accountant that Diversity Solutions existed.

The report also found that Roxanne Wright, a then-employee of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, helped Larry Ritter conduct nonstate trainings without securing state approval for outside employment. Wright resigned from state service in June.

The Inspector General’s Office has forwarded its findings to the Albany County District Attorney. The Inspector General also recommended that the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance take disciplinary action against Ritter.