‘A Culture of Corruption’

The mug shot of Alan Hevesi taken on his first day in prison was displayed last week on the front pages of the city’s tabloids. The man who as state comptroller was once one of the most powerful people in state government appeared pathetic and broken.

The image of Hevesi with his head shaved and dressed in prison greens was a far cry from that of the man who was impeccably dressed with trimmed gray hair. Hevesi, of Forest Hills, was convicted of steering $250 million in state pension funds to a crony in exchange for $1 million in cash and gifts. He was sentenced in March to one to four years in state prison.

His attorney asked for leniency. He argued that Hevesi, 71, has a heart condition, needs a pacemaker and could die in prison.

But the judge refused. Hevesi was the retirement system’s sole trustee and chief fiscal officer of the state. He knew what he was doing was illegal and immoral.

In asking the court to hold Hevesi accountable for his actions, Ellen Biben, the chief prosecutor, said Hevesi “fostered a culture of corruption that permeated the highest ranks of the comptroller’s office” and that as the sole director of the pension fund, Hevesi destroyed its “most valuable asset: its integrity.”

To his credit, Hevesi told the court, “I violated their trust and take full responsibility for my indiscretion. I publicly disgraced myself. I have only myself to blame for what I have done.”

Ironically, Hevesi has lectured on college campuses about the importance of integrity in government and high ethical standards. Despite his crimes, he will collect a government pension. Any government official convicted of felony should forfeit his or her right to a pension.

Hevesi is a symbol of Albany corruption. Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to make good on his campaign pledge to root out corruption. He can start by making certain that no one has sole responsibility for the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and that no one convicted of abusing their office to put money in their pockets collects a pension.

Although Hevesi’s fall is a tragedy, it is also the result of greed and arrogance. Given the amount of money involved his sentence is lenient.