Valerie Bauman, AP, May 12, 2009
Former Surgeon General Antonia Novello pleaded not guilty Tuesday to forcing state employees to work overtime to handle her personal chores when she was New York’s health commissioner.
Novello entered the plea in Albany County Court, where prosecutors unsealed a 20-count indictment that included a charge of defrauding the government, a felony. Novello could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Novello, originally from Puerto Rico, was released after being ordered to surrender her passport to her lawyer, E. Stewart Jones.
Prosecutors said Novello used state workers to chauffeur her on shopping trips and rearrange heavy furniture at her apartment while she was New York’s top health official from 1999 to 2006.
“She is here because she has a bull’s-eye on her back,” he said. “Because politics is a contact sport. Because there are people who are vindictive and who wanted to get her ever since she left the state.”
The state inspector general said the 2,500 hours of overtime put in by the workers cost taxpayers about $48,000. Novello was paid $256,000 annually while she was health commissioner.
The investigation against Novello started in July 2007 under former Inspector General Kristine Hamann, an appointee of Democratic former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Soares, the district attorney, is also a Democrat.
Other public servants and politicians have “done much worse” yet weren’t pursued as aggressively as Novello, Jones said.