By Brendan J. Lyons | Times Union, Albany, N.Y. (TNS)
Albany — The State Police Special Investigations Unit on Tuesday raided the headquarters of the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association and the nearby office of its related Signal 30 Benefit Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for charitable causes.
It’s unclear whether the raid also targeted the “Surgeons Group,” which like the Signal 30 Benefit Fund is a fundraising arm of the PBA that provides honorary memberships to paid supporters. The Surgeons Group, which shares offices with the PBA, has raised millions of dollars for the union through its sales of official-looking dashboard “Trooper Surgeon” placards that also come with an identification card and a gold badge reading “PBA State Police Surgeon.”
Members of the SIU kept a low profile as they executed the search warrants at the PBA’s State Street office and also at Signal 30′s nearby office on Howard Street. They used unmarked vehicles and, in the case of the PBA’s office, a rear entrance. The office is located a block from the state Capitol, where Gov. Kathy Hochul was delivering here State of the State address Tuesday afternoon as the raid quietly unfolded.
The raid of the labor union representing several thousand state troopers follows allegations of widespread policy violations, including undisclosed conflicts of interest and questionable financial and hiring practices that were first reported by the Times Union.
It’s unclear if the SIU initiated its investigation based on a complaint or whether it is working with a prosecutorial agency. The members of the SIU are not part of the Troopers PBA, and are represented by a separate union that represents State Police investigators.
The state attorney general’s office, which regulates non-profit organizations, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. attorney’s office in Albany all would have jurisdiction over any criminal investigation of the PBA.
“This is part of an ongoing investigation, and we have been fully cooperating with the investigators for the last several months,” PBA general counsel Daniel Strollo said in a statement. “The current leadership team of the PBA is committed to the integrity of the organization and we welcome the Special Investigations Unit’s assistance in uncovering past wrongdoing by individuals that are no longer part of the PBA.”
The new leaders of the union had previously declined to say whether they would report any of the alleged misconduct they had discovered to an outside agency. The union has in recent months similarly declined to answer written questions from the Times Union concerning the internal strife and its business practices.
Unrest at the union boiled over at an Oct. 6 meeting at the organization’s State Street headquarters. Longtime former PBA President Thomas H. Mungeer gaveled the group into what would be a more than six-hour executive session, according to minutes of the meeting obtained by the Times Union.
When the board emerged from that closed-door session, its members had accepted the resignation of their longtime general counsel, Richard E. Mulvaney, who is a former New York Police Department lieutenant and had been a confidant to Mungeer for many years. Later in the meeting, Mungeer, who had been president of the PBA for more than 13 years, informed the group he would take a leave of absence.
The unrest began last year with a mutiny on the board of directors led by a coalition of troopers from western New York. Their criticism had centered in part on the installation about a year ago of a new treasurer, Charles W. Murphy, who had begun probing the organization’s finances and spending practices. Among those discoveries was that the PBA had a longtime contract with Epic Risk Solutions, a small brokerage in Goshen founded and operated by Michael S. Klugman, whose firm specializes in providing augmented coverage plans for various state trooper unions. Both Mulvaney and Mungeer have insurance licenses, and their credentials listed the address — and, in Mungeer’s case, the business email — of Epic Risk Solutions.
On Nov. 18, the PBA’s board issued a bulletin to its member troopers explaining their earlier decision to cut ties with the Orange County insurance firm. In addition to citing Mulvaney’s and Mungeer’s connection to the firm, they wrote that Klugman “confirmed that Richard Mulvaney has a financial interest in the company. These licenses and associations with — and financial interests in — Epic Risk Solutions were not disclosed to the board.”
Klugman told the Times Union in November that Mulvaney and Mungeer “did nothing wrong” and were “not related to my company.” He said they had never signed an insurance contract for a PBA client or received any compensation for that business.
“There’s never been any inappropriate behavior whatsoever,” Klugman said. “So the allegations put out there by the PBA are completely false.”
But the insurgency at the Oct. 6 PBA meeting, an action that had been planned in advance by the members seeking to overthrow the union’s longtime leaders, expanded beyond the alleged conflict of interests with the insurance brokerage.
At that same meeting, the board also voted to establish a committee to investigate “violations of PBA policies,” and another committee to probe “allegations of misconduct by Thomas Mungeer alleged to have occurred on or about (Aug. 23).”
It’s unclear what policies may have been violated. The second allegation involved a matter that remains under investigation by the state’s Office of Employee Relations in which a female trooper had accused Mungeer of making sexually charged comments to her during an event at a Syracuse hotel on the eve of the New York State Fair.
The encounter took place at a DoubleTree hotel off the state Thruway in Syracuse where the PBA hosts an annual dinner for dozens of troopers and supervisors assigned to work security details at the fair. A person familiar with the matter said Mungeer has denied making the remarks and said his exchange with the female trooper was about what Mungeer believed were derogatory remarks she had made about the PBA.
Mungeer has declined to comment since stepping down from the PBA.
The PBA’s board also voted in early October to establish a “committee on financial integrity to review spending and hiring practices.” State Police sources said the spending concerns raised had focused on expenditures for arguably lavish dinners and other social outings. The board also eliminated the payment of “leadership stipends,” although it’s unclear who had received those and how much they were paid.
At the same meeting, members of the board proposed changing the union’s constitution to allow a two-thirds majority of the executive board to suspend someone “where there is reasonable cause to believe that such individual has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the association.” The change appeared to be drafted explicitly to remove Mungeer.
After the board voted to schedule an Oct. 11 special meeting to vote on that change, Mungeer immediately informed his colleagues that he was “taking a voluntary leave of absence.” A few weeks later, Mungeer — who had been president of the union since 2009 — submitted his resignation.
The PBA’s first vice president, Andrew C. Davis, took over as acting president after Mungeer took his leave of absence, and has remained in that position pending the election of a new president. Mungeer is undergoing “refresher training” at the State Police Academy in Albany before he will be reassigned to a trooper’s position in Troop F, according to State Police.
Benefit fund, favored doctors
Financial concerns also have been raised about the management of the union’s related nonprofits, including the Signal 30 Benefit Fund, which has raised millions of dollars through the years to create a pool of money to provide law enforcement scholarships and grants for troopers or other law enforcement officials in need — including those impacted by line-of-duty deaths, injuries, fires, illnesses and other personal crises.
Although Mungeer was listed in the organization’s tax documents as the “president” and “principal officer” of Signal 30, that entity has sought to distance itself from the PBA in response to questions about its finances, including the revenue earned by issuing “badges” and ID cards to trustees who contribute thousands of dollars a year to the organization.
A Times Union review of Signal 30 financial records indicates that Mungeer had filed numerous expenditure requests with Signal 30 last year for various charitable causes and fundraising activities.
“The Signal 30 Fund is a legally independent and registered nonprofit in good standing and fully compliant with all filing and reporting requirements,” the group said in a statement issued by the same public relations firm used by the PBA. “Signal 30 relies on the generous contributions of credentialed trustees and other supporters, which are documented by Signal 30 staff, and make the charity’s good works possible.”
An unsigned letter sent recently to Signal 30′s board members that was apparently written by three of its directors said the Times Union had erroneously reported that the PBA president was the “president” of the Signal 30 Fund.
“This is not true,” the letter states. “In fact, the PBA president does not have any formal position with Signal 30, does not vote and has no ability to act on behalf of the charity. The fund’s bylaws clearly state that we are governed solely by our independent board of directors.”
The group sent the letter even though Mungeer had previously been listed on Signal 30′s website on the board of directors as “president.” He also through the years had outsized influence on the group’s decisions about who received grants and how much was distributed, according to interviews with more than a half dozen former troopers — including one who was previously a Signal 30 board member.
The Surgeons Group program was established more than a decade ago, when board members sought to have a formal affiliation with a dozen or so key physicians around the state who could serve as liaisons or advisers in instances when a trooper or member of their family might need serious medical attention.
But two people familiar with the program said that over the years the “surgeon” program was opened up, and now the placards are sold or given to possibly hundreds or more medical providers annually. While Signal 30 does not sell or distribute the dashboard placards, it similarly issues “honorary” badges and identification cards to paying supporters, who in the past have included such notable figures as Donald J. Trump.
One of the former PBA officials interviewed by the Times Union said the broad financial concerns that fueled the unrest within the union include questions about alcohol use in its Albany headquarters, as well as alcohol bills charged to the union during dinner outings. There have been additional concerns raised about housing stipends for PBA leaders, an apartment in Albany that had been paid from the president’s account, and a raise of roughly $80,000 that had been given to a lobbyist who is a former trooper and PBA board member.
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