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Ousted judge is named to county post Restaino is appointed to investigate Medicaid fraud

Robert M. Restaino is back on the public payroll.

The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday appointed Restaino, who was ousted as Niagara Falls city judge, to a $74,998-a-year position as the county's special assistant for Medicaid provider fraud.

Restaino's job, a position funded in full by a state grant, will be to sniff out fraudulent claims submitted to Medicaid by doctors and other health care providers. The county gets to keep 25 percent of whatever is recovered through state enforcement efforts triggered by his investigations.

"He's not a member of the majority [party]," noted Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda. "This is a bipartisan effort."

Restaino, a Democrat, is the brother of county Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino, but the commissioner doesn't get to boss his younger brother around.

"My understanding is, he will be reporting to the County Legislature and the county manager," Anthony Restaino said.

Robert Restaino was removed from his judgeship June 5 by the state Court of Appeals, which upheld a recommendation for ouster by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Restaino was punished for throwing 46 people in jail March 11, 2005, after a cell phone or pager rang in his courtroom and no one would admit to owning it. He had been a judge for seven years.

Wojtaszek said a committee of five legislators interviewed five lawyers Sept. 22 before recommending Restaino.

Although Wojtaszek, who has been pushing Medicaid enforcement since he took office in January, had said he hoped to find an attorney with experience in forensic accounting, Restaino doesn't have that.

"He's got experience in matrimonials as an attorney," Wojtaszek said. He explained that means Restaino was good at digging into couples' financial records to find a suitable level of support payments.

Restaino walked away from a reporter who asked for his comment on his position, which begins Tuesday.

The job is at the mercy of state funding, and legislators have been told if money is cut off in the future, the post might have to be abolished unless the county wants to pay for it on its own.

In another matter, the Legislature scheduled an Oct. 21 public hearing on salary adjustments for the four county coroners.

All would be set at $17,500 a year, effective in 2009. That's a cut for the District 1 position and a $1,500 raise for the other three.

James M. Joyce, the Democrat who resigned in District 1 last month, was earning $22,473 a year. The county has often reduced salaries of elected officials when a newcomer takes office.

Joyce's wife, Cindy-Lou Joyce, is running for a four-year term in District 1 Nov. 4 against Republican Russell Jackman II, who was appointed Tuesday to fill the seat for the rest of this year.

Jackman, whose appointment passed 13-5, with all the Niagara Falls members opposing it, will be paid at James Joyce's rate until Dec. 31.

Also Tuesday, the Legislature failed to approve $6.7 million in borrowing for 10 projects and equipment purchases. It was supported by 12 of the 18 lawmakers present, but it required a two-thirds vote of the whole membership, or 13 out of 19. Legislator Gerald K. Farnham, R-Lockport, was absent.

The measure is expected to be revisited at the next meeting, said Legislator Jason J. Murgia, D-Niagara Falls, chairman of the Administration Committee.

Virtuoso voted no, along with the other four members of the Democratic caucus and Danny W. Sklarski, D-Town of Niagara, who caucuses with the Republicans.

Virtuoso said the borrowing should be put off until the dust settles from the Wall Street crisis and it's known what the impact will be on local government aid from the deficit-riddled state.


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