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Whistle-blower suit against Thruway Authority dismissed

Brian Rusk’s four-year legal effort to clear his name has run into a roadblock – two federal judges who say his claims of being a whistle-blower are baseless.

Rusk, a former county legislator and Polish-American community leader, was fired in 2010 from his job at the state Thruway Authority after an investigation revealed he was running a private outside business on state time.

After his firing, Rusk, a Republican, sued the authority, claiming his dismissal was the result of politics and his own whistle-blowing activity.

Two different judges – U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder of Buffalo and U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. of Rochester – disagreed with Rusk and said his suit should be dismissed.

Geraci, in fact, went so far as to suggest that Rusk’s claim “is not supported by even a scintilla of evidence.”

“The plaintiff offers mere speculation that the change in leadership of the NYSTA (Thruway Authority) board from Republican to Democratic served a role in his termination,” the judge said in an order dismissing the case.

Rusk’s attorney said his client intends to appeal Geraci’s decision and will continue to argue that he was fired because of his decision to blow the whistle on a local Democrat hired by the authority.

“Brian put forth a complaint and was fired five weeks later,” said Andrew P. Fleming, Rusk’s attorney.

Fleming claims Rusk also filed a complaint with the now-defunct Moreland Commission, a panel appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate public corruption that was subsequently disbanded.

“He never heard anything,” Fleming said of the commission. “Not even a postcard.”

The judges, in separate decisions, found no evidence that Rusk was fired because he’s a Republican or a whistle-blower.

“It is inconceivable that plaintiff, who himself admits that he was hired because of his political connections, could have reasonably believed that hiring a NYSTA employee with political connections was illegal, corrupt or an improper government action,” Schroeder said in his recommendation to Geraci.

Schroeder and Geraci also found no evidence that Thruway officials were aware of Rusk’s allegations at the time of his dismissal.

Rusk was fired from his position as an assistant public information officer after a state inspector general’s investigation revealed he was using state equipment and time to operate a public relations business.

Active in local Republican politics, Rusk joined the Thruway Authority in 1997 and earned $86,442 a year.

Shortly after his firing, Rusk went public with allegations that William A. Eagan, a former Town of Boston supervisor, was hired by the authority because of Democratic Party ties.

Eagan could not be reached to comment Friday, but Thruway Authority officials were quick to note that the inspector general’s investigation began well before Rusk came forward with his own allegations.

The inspector general report relied on state records that indicated Rusk used his office phone to make 1,079 calls to private companies that may have been clients of his private public relations business.

The report also claims Rusk made several thousand more calls to those companies on his personal cellphone and while on state time.