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Legal inquiries commence over State Senate stipends

ALBANY – Federal and state investigators have opened inquiries into the legality of additional taxpayer-funded salary deals given to eight state senators.

The stipends, awarded by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, were given to five GOP senators, including Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, and three breakaway Democrats who are part of a group that runs the Senate in a coalition arrangement.

The moves have attracted the attention of both State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a former Democratic senator from Manhattan, and the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, based in Brooklyn, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We welcome and will cooperate with any and all appropriate inquiries because we know that everything was done in accordance with the (state) Constitution and the law,’’ said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif.

At issue is Flanagan’s decision, made a couple of years ago but expanded this year, to boost the pay of eight members of the 63-member Senate. Lawmakers get a base pay of $79,500, but many receive higher levels from stipends, also called lulu’s, for being the chair of a committee or for holding a leadership post.

But Flanagan let eight senators who hold the title of “vice chair” of various committees receive additional stipends, though the law outlining the various stipend levels refers only to committee chairs. In Gallivan’s case, he has gotten a $12,500 stipend for chairing the Senate crime victims, crime and corrections committee. This year, he got a stipend bump to $18,000 for his role as vice chairman of the Senate education committee; that higher stipend became available when the chairman of the education panel took a higher stipend for being the Senate majority whip. Lawmakers can only receive one stipend.

Flanagan under fire over extra stipends for 7 state senators

It is uncertain whether the inquiries launched by Schneiderman and the U.S. Attorney will lead to a full-blown criminal investigation. It is possible, in Schneiderman’s case for instance, that he could begin, depending on his initial findings, a formal civil case in the matter. He also could put out an official legal opinion stating whether or not he believes the stipend practice is legal or not.

“We’re not confirming or denying if we’re working with law enforcement,’’ said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesman for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The comptroller’s office, which handles state payrolls, processed the stipend payments that were made in two batches shortly before and after the state budget was adopted in April.

“We don’t comment on pending investigations,’’ said Amy Spitalnick, a Schneiderman spokeswoman.

John Marzulli, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment.

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