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Martha Evans

In May 2009 after returning from an overseas trip, I find a letter from the NYS Teacher’s Retirements System saying that I have been overpaid for the last 3 years and now they are going to want over $29,000 back. I had retired in July of 2006. The letter stated “this law and that law”, but basically was making a case for backing out on something they initially approved.

I called Michael Corn (our Teacher Representative on the NYSTRS Board) and asked what was going on.  He stated that Andrew Cuomo (then NYS Attorney General) was auditing all of the Retirement System because some superintendents who had retired had padded their incomes on retirement.  So I asked Corn what did this have to do with me?  Apparently the Watkins Glen District and the Watkins Glen Faculty Association checked ahead of time on some new contract language in our 2004 contract and Corn stated that NYSTRS lawyers had said it sounded fine and it was not a problem.  Well Cuomo didn’t think it was fine.  Corn stated that the NYSTRS Board was going to fight him on Watkins Glen’s teacher program for retirement credit because they had advised them that it was viable for retirement credit. I wrote a letter to NYSRS saying I was no way at fault and have no idea why I’m being made to pay back something I had nothing to do with.  Six months later I had a message on my answer machine from Michael saying he had tried, but the NYSRS Board had to “cave” to Cuomo. He apologized, saying he was so sorry it had turned out like this. I was terribly upset.  I heard nothing more until a year later about one month AFTER Cuomo is elected governor. I received a letter stating I will now have $1000 a month ($500 toward the “overpayment and $500 reduced for life) deducted from my pension, until the over $29,000 is paid back.  I took them to court.  Michael Corn had meanwhile died of cancer. I got a deposition from our union Retirement Rep. that had talked to the NYSTRS lawyers and Corn prior to our negotiations setting the contract language.

I lost.  I sat in court when the 5 judges asked my lawyer if the “District/Union” had gotten it in writing.  The answer is no, they hadn’t, because they didn’t see a necessity for it at the time. This is why I had a deposition from the Union Rep.  They didn’t consider that absolute proof. The only other person I could have gotten a statement from was Michael Corn and he had now passed away from cancer. So my lawyer didn’t feel I had grounds to go back on the District.  She was a local lawyer who kindly took my case because NYSUT (NYS Teachers Union) said they wouldn’t take the case because I was retired.  I have already spent $15,000 on legal fees and I had nothing left to try again.  During this whole time, I’m blocked from online access to my Retirement information and then suddenly in 2013 all quarterly and annual statements stopped coming in…nothing.

In January 2015, $500 a month starts reappearing in my monthly retirement check. In July 2015, I requested to have access to my online retirement account, and after three weeks, they allowed me to log in.  It says $0 on the line for “other”. By my calculations I still had 11 months more to go before the pay back amount would be satisfied.  To date I have received no letter stating the amount was paid in full.  Then I read your article. Is it too late or could I possibly get the money back…should they have been asking for this money from the Watkins Glen School District?

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