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VACCO AGAIN VOWS TO SHARE PROCEEDS OF TOBACCO PACT

Several times after the state sued the tobacco industry last year, Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco assured Erie County that it would share the proceeds from any settlement.

The promises were made in a series of letters -- made public Monday -- from Vacco and his chief special counsel, Lucia M. Valente, to County Attorney Kenneth A. Schoetz.

The correspondence was released by Vacco's Buffalo office after County Executive Gorski, pointing to California's recent agreement to split any tobacco settlement or court award with its counties, renewed his demand that New York do the same.

Gorski is trying to recover the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses borne by county taxpayers over the years under a formula that requires counties to split Medicaid costs with the state.

In a Feb. 5, 1997, letter, Vacco reminded county officials across the state that he has no choice in the matter. Under the Social Security Act, he wrote, "any recovery for Medicaid overpayments must be divided proportionately between the state, the locality and the federal government.

"Therefore, you can feel secure that the interests of your county are protected, both by virtue of my vigorous prosecution of the tobacco lawsuit and by state and federal law."

According to a July 16, 1997, letter from Ms. Valente to Schoetz, both she and Vacco had by then reiterated this pledge at least four times, during meetings with county officials or in correspondence.

Gorski's claim that his pleas for a 50-50 split between the state and counties have fallen on deaf ears in Albany is not only wrong but "counterproductive to our effort to force tobacco industry to pay back billions to state and county governments," said Mike Zabel of Vacco's Buffalo office.

"Not only is the attorney general personally committed to returning money to the counties, the law requires it," Zabel said.

Last month, shortly after a proposed multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement died in the U.S. Senate, Vacco and other state attorneys general decided to fight Big Tobacco individually and as a group, pursuing lawsuits state by state while simultaneously negotiating a settlement of their own.

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