A New York woman is facing prison time after admitting that she hid her mother’s death for years in order to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in her teacher pension benefits.
Long Island resident Cynthia Rozzell, of Hempstead, pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
Prosecutors said Rozzell concealed the death of her mother, Mary Garrett, and collected pension benefits issued to Garrett by the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS) between May 2014 and May 2020.
“Pension theft is not a victimless crime,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “By stealing her deceased mother’s pension benefits, Ms. Rozzell dishonored countless hardworking New Yorkers who have dedicated their lives to one of our most noble professions: teaching and enriching our youth.”
Late last month, New York State Attorney General Letitia James issued a scathing report about how nursing homes in the state handled Covid-19, including a finding that the state’s Department of Health undercounted Covid deaths at nursing homes by approximately 50%. While the discrepancy didn’t change the overall number of New York Covid-19 deaths, it attributed deaths where a nursing home resident had been transferred to a hospital for treatment to the hospital instead of the nursing home.
This undercount (a term New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has pushed back on) downplayed the high rates of transmission at nursing homes, at a time when the state mandated that nursing homes re-admit patients with Covid-19 who had been receiving treatment in a hospital, a policy that was reversed a couple of months later. (Cuomo has long said the decision to send recovering Covid-19 patients back to nursing homes was based on federal guidance to do so.)
It’s been a little over two years since 1,100 former St. Clare’s health care workers learned they were no longer receiving their pensions.
The legal battle continues, after a lawsuit has been filed against the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, the St. Clare’s Corporation, and two local bishops.
Attorney General, Letitia James, is also launching a separate investigation. But now, a joint motion has been filed between the lawyers working on behalf of the pensioners and the Attorney General’s Office to compel the defendants to produce documents and information.
More than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in New York’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. But as recently as late January, the state was reporting only about 8,500 fatalities, excluding virus-related deaths that occurred physically outside of those facilities, such as in hospitals.
About two weeks ago, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, accused the Cuomo administration of severely undercounting those deaths connected to nursing homes. Hours later, the state updated those numbers, adding thousands of deaths to the official tally. Since then, a court order has resulted in more updates, further increasing the number of deaths.
Ms. James’s assertion of an undercount of total deaths of nursing home residents fueled accusations that the Cuomo administration may have artificially depressed the number of those deaths to try to deflect blame for a policy set early in the pandemic: sending nursing home residents who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus back to the nursing homes.
The governor has said the state was following federal guidelines in returning the residents and trying to increase hospital capacity, assertions that he repeated on Monday, while also denying any suggestion that he was making any decision because of political calculations. “These decisions are not political decisions,” he said.
Cuomo ducked press demands for nursing-home mortality data throughout 2020, even as every other state made the information public. While New York admitted to about 7,000 nursing home deaths, informed estimates put the real count at around 12,000; the state refused to confirm the numbers. Last month, Attorney General Letitia James released a report acknowledging that the real death toll was close to 13,000. In reaction to this news, Cuomo snapped, “Who cares? 33 [percent], 28 [percent]. Died in a hospital. Died in a nursing home. They died.”
What this episode reveals is Andrew Cuomo’s massive egotism. He was elevated by a fawning national media into a preposterously salvific role last spring and summer. Throughout the course of the pandemic, the governor gave daily televised briefings in which he hailed his own performance as a beacon of leadership. Cuomo delivered such apothegms as, “It’s going to be hard, there is no doubt. But at the same time it is going to be OK.” He also made a point, continuously, of calling the novel coronavirus the “European virus,” presumably in counterpoint to Trump’s calling it the “China virus,” though it is widely recognized that the virus originated in China, even if some infected people may have caught it in Italy before bringing it to America.
New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker is defending the state following Attorney General Letitia James’ newly released report that alleges COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes were underreported by as much as 50 percent.
The report found the state negligible for COVID-19-related deaths inside New York nursing homes that had previously gone unreported, which Zucker has denied in a lengthy statement released late on Thursday, Jan. 28, just hours after the report was released.