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Frank Piracci got a five-day suspension as Buffalo deputy's police commissioner in 1990 for his role in passing on a suspect's criminal record to a friend.

Now Piracci and another former deputy commissioner, Joseph Scinta, stand to split $15,000 in overtime pay -- because of Piracci's transgression.

And they can thank a recent federal court ruling for that windfall. Before Piracci's misdeed, the deputy police commissioner was not entitled to the overtime. But the court ruled Piracci's wrongdoing means the deputy commissioner is entitled to overtime and other benefits.

The bizarre twist comes about because Piracci was able to use his suspension as evidence in a federal lawsuit that sought overtime pay for him and Scinta.

"You can't do this as a criminal, but you can do it as a cop," mayoral aide Stephen T. Banko III said when told of a court settlement in the case Thursday. "You violate the confidence of your office, and you get a benefit."

City attorneys never questioned whether the two men worked overtime as supervisors at the World University Games in the summer of 1993.

And although the state had agreed to pay all overtime costs for the Games -- about $470,000 for the city police -- city officials balked at approved overtime for Piracci and Scinta.

Top city officials never have been entitled to overtime, including the deputy police commissioners, who were each paid $63,500 at the time.

"They should do the job and not ask for overtime pay," then-Common Council Majority Leader Eugene M. Fahey said as the Council refused to approve the overtime payments.

Fahey said it would set a precedent that would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars if police and fire brass or City Hall's top bosses started collecting overtime.

So Piracci and Scinta filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, where the city made the same arguments, backed by exemptions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

But that was before a federal court ruling in a New York City case.

The court essentially held that once a top city employee was suspended for wrongdoing, the job he held could no longer be classified as exempt from requirements of the federal labor law.

And that included being paid overtime.

Piracci's lawyer, John B. Surgala, made his client's 1990 suspension part of the court case before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol E. Heckman.

He included internal-affairs reports in which Piracci agreed to a five-day suspension in 1990 for making copies of a suspect's criminal record at the request of a friend who owned a tire store.

Once an appeals court upheld the New York City case this summer, said Kathleen O'Hara, an assistant corporation counsel, the city had no choice but to settle the case.It must still get the Council's OK.

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