Boyland’s Magic Trick

Boyland’s Magic Trick

Boyland’s Magic Trick
March 6, 2014

There’s no doubt where Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. was March 10: Cameras caught him at the Manhattan federal courthouse, where he surrendered to face corruption charges.

The paperwork he submitted to bill state taxpayers for his travel expenses tells a different story.

Boyland filed for a $165 per diem payment—the amount lawmakers get to cover food, lodging and travel when they perform their duties more than 50 miles from their home districts.

Boyland was in Manhattan all day, about eight miles from his home in Brownsville, Brooklyn, say sources close to his criminal case. Yet he claimed $959.99 in reimbursements for the week, and an Assembly finance department employee signed and approved the form March 31.

It was not a one-time discrepancy for Boyland, who has the Assembly’s worst attendance record—and submitted expenses on 22 days he was recorded as absent. Boyland has claimed reimbursements for being in Albany while his Facebook comments revealed him to be elsewhere—including North Carolina.

His is a particularly egregious example of how New York lawmakers operate on an honor system for claiming taxpayer reimbursements. Few are aware of the rules for cashing in, no one audits their claims and there is no system to check whether they were where they said. The Assembly finance department scrutinizes the forms, but only to ensure they’ve been filled out properly.

In fact, there is no way to tell whether Boyland is better or worse about claiming expenses than any of his colleagues.

“There’s trust, I think, that you are giving them the right dates,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who cosponsored a bill to require more accountability on travel reports. “They don’t have our schedules. Do they check to see whether we were in Albany that day? I think there’s a sense of trust that we are adults, we are elected—so I don’t know whether it gets scrutinized or not.”

The Assembly’s expense rules are spelled out in a seven-page memorandum from Speaker Sheldon Silver, which says the full $165 per diem is for overnight stays in Albany or outside a member’s district on legislative business. Members don’t have to submit receipts, except for tolls, although many do.

The rules say expense reports are reviewed by the state comptroller’s office, but a spokesman for that office said no audits have been performed in recent memory.

“When members file travel documents, they are under oath and are aware that they are at risk of prosecution for any false filings,” said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland. “We follow the comptroller’s guidelines, and in some areas we exceed the comptroller’s receipt requirements.”

But several lawmakers interviewed for this story, including Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, chairman of the Legislative Ethics Commission, had no idea those rules existed.

“What generally happens,” O’Donnell said, “is a new member comes to an older member and says, ‘How do you do this?’ ”

Over the past decade, Assembly members have billed taxpayers for more than $23 million in travel-related expenses. Boyland has received more than $212,000 since he was first elected in 2002, claiming $35,000 last year on top of his $79,500 salary.

Boyland claimed he went to Albany almost every week of the year, despite having attended session just 20 days out of 60. From September 2010 to July 2011, he claimed he’d spent at least 177 days in transit to Albany.

On Facebook, however, Boyland left a different trail. At 7:50 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24, he wrote on the social networking site that he was in North Carolina with his family after a reunion weekend in Virginia. Yet his expense report filed later in the week claimed he drove 175 miles from Brooklyn to Albany that day, too.

Four days later, he told his Facebook friends about a campaign fund-raiser in Brooklyn that night, and many of them wrote back to thank him for it. His expense forms claim he was still in Albany that night, however, and returned to Brooklyn the following day—allowing him $956.50 in reimbursements for the week.

Michael Bachrach, an attorney representing Boyland, declined to comment on his client’s whereabouts on the days in question. The assemblyman’s trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

Galef, who represents parts of Putnam and Westchester counties, said the sheer number of days Boyland claimed to be in Albany was surprising—and pointed to reasons why the Assembly needs to tighten its standards for claiming expenses.

“It is a good chunk of money from the state, and I think we have to say to the taxpayers, ‘We’ve accounted for our time,’ ” she said. “Not that I don’t love Albany, but why would you want to be there unless you really had to?”

Laura Nahmias