With tax season bearing down, many New Yorkers are dive-bombing into their couch cushions for spare change and waiting anxiously for government refunds to help make ends meet.
Not so for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who are some of dozens of other top officials with cash sitting in an $11 billion pile of orphan money under the auspices of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s Unclaimed Funds department.
The Unclaimed Funds database, started circa 1985, allows New Yorkers to type in their name and find whether they are owed money from dozens of corporations or government entities. There is more than $11 billion in Unclaimed Funds, which date back to 1940, according to the comptroller’s office.
The list of New York politicos who are owed money is long and illustrious, and in some cases notorious.
Former State Sen. Nick Spano, recently convicted in a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office on charges of tax fraud, has redeemable funds, as does Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. and lobbyist Richard Lipsky, both of whom have been accused of corruption. There’s also someone listed as “PedroGauti Espada” of the Bronx, who may be Pedro Gautier Espada, currently standing trial along with his father, former State Sen. Pedro Espada, on federal corruption charges.
Former state comptroller Alan Hevesi, who pled guilty on corruption charges in a massive pay to play scandal and is now in jail, has some unclaimed funds too, and so do two of his children, including his son Andrew, who is owed something from Tiffany and Co., and his daughter Laura.
Other notorious New York political figures who have unclaimed funds include former Rep. Eric Massa, who resigned after a tickling scandal, former state Sen. Efrain Gonzalez, convicted and jailed on embezzlement charges, and former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, convicted of corruption charges.
And then there’s former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, indicted and jailed on fraud charges, who appears to have missed funds directed to Giuliani Headquarters at 5 Times Square, possibly because of an accounts payable misspelling that labeled him as “Benard Kerik.” Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s money suffered a similar fate– unclaimed funds sent to his 2006 campaign office are addressed to “Eliott Spitzer.”
A spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office said notoriety can lead some individuals to refrain from claiming their due, especially if the money could end up going to potential claimants in lawsuits.
“There have been people that have had negative publicity and in some cases those accounts are part of class-action suits, and once the filers claimed, it goes to people from the class action suit,” said Vanessa Lockel, the comptroller’s deputy press secretary.
But the funds can also come in handy for lawmakers or public figures seeking to improve their image. “If you’re concerned,” Lockel said, “we encourage people to consider giving their unclaimed funds to charity.”
Unclaimed money doesn’t just favor the lawless. The man who prosecuted several of the aforementioned politicians, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, also has unclaimed funds.
And although the Comptroller’s Office is not at liberty to disclose how much individual lawmakers are owed, in most cases the unclaimed amounts are in sums greater than people expect, usually at least $25, said the comptroller’s spokeswoman.
Other notable New Yorkers who have money owed to them include Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has funds due from the New York State Treasury Department, current New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The junior senator is owed “Twenty three dollars and six cents,” said her spokesman Glen Caplin, who said it was likely the senator would retrieve the funds, because, well, “Twenty-three dollars is twenty-three dollars.”
“We do applaud the efforts of the comptroller to make sure, in these tough economic times, that new Yorkers claim these funds,” Caplin said on behalf of the senator. “In these tough economic times, every dollar is important.”
Cuomo’s funds date all the way back to 2005, to his office at Island Capital, where he was a senior executive until he was elected state attorney general in 2006.
There are a half-dozen listings for Ed Koch in the unclaimed funds site, for money that may or may not belong to Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
Koch knew about the site, but wasn’t aware his name was on it.
“I didn’t know that,” Koch said, when told about his potential unclaimed funds. “Yes I’m going to claim it, and if I’m lucky, it will be $100,000,” which he said he would put in the bank and give to his relatives. “If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t know, but now that I’m told, I’m going to inquire about this money,” he said, adding, “I feel lucky today.”
Famous names in the database are a regular thing, said Lockel.
“It’s very exciting, Seinfeld is in there!”
There is also a DiNapoli in the database, “but it’s not the comptroller,” she said.
“We’re not always sure why people won’t claim it, but we encourage people to consider it, and even if they don’t need the money, to think outside the box and consider donating it,” Lockel said, adding that it’s not only humans who are owed money, it’s also political campaigns, local governments and hospitals.
There’s at least one person in the database who is owed $1.7 million. And on Staten Island last year, a woman who had recently entered a homeless shelter at a senior center found out she was owed $10,000, a sum that got her out of debt and homelessness. It can’t hurt to look, Lockel emphasized.
“It’s a great opportunity to make a good situation out of something you might not have even counted on.”
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