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Twenty-three school districts - nearly one-fifth of all the school districts on Long Island - improperly reported private attorneys as employees, which helped the attorneys earn public pensions totaling more than $342,082 a year, plus health benefits worth thousands more, a Newsday review of records has found.

In some cases, a town, village, library, special district or county also reported the attorneys as employees, often as full time, even though records show they did not always work full time. By being reported as employees at these other agencies while also working in private practice, they were able to enhance the size of their state pensions.

The employment arrangements - some of which started in the early 1970s and continue to this day - enabled a select group of 10 attorneys to garner generous public benefits, even as they earned millions in legal fees as well, state and school district records show. Three of the 10 have not yet begun receiving their pension.

Among the attorneys is one currently collecting a six-figure public pension; another is a Nassau County legislator. Although most of the attorneys declined to comment, those who did speak with a reporter said they were following previous practice when they got onto the public and school district payrolls. Two recently changed their status from employee to independent contractor.

The issue of independent contractors being treated as employees so they could obtain public benefits has been called into question after Newsday reported on the case of Centerport attorney Lawrence Reich. Five school districts falsely reported him as a full-time employee, enabling him to collect a pension of nearly $62,000 and health benefits for life.

About three weeks ago, the state comptroller's office found that Reich did not meet the standards used by the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether someone is an employee. As a result, he must pay back the pension he has been collecting since September 2006.

The FBI, IRS and New York attorney general's office all have launched investigations of lawyers being carried as employees by school districts.



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