An independent arbitrator ruled last week that a former Southold Town employee convicted of stealing over a quarter million dollars from the town’s justice court is not entitled to health insurance provided through the town.
However, the arbitrator’s decision has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she unlawfully took $231,791 over the course of about five years.
According to a written decision by arbitrator Robert Grey issued on March 17, the reason for declining Christine Stulsky’s health insurance lies in the fact that she “must have been employed by the town on April 7, 2014, the last date immediately prior to retirement into the New York State Employees Retirement System.”
Ms. Stulsky, however, issued her retirement in mid-March.
“This was not impacted by the criminal cases,” Supervisor Scott Russell said of the ruling on Friday. “Some would argue it should be, but it’s not … One has nothing to do with the other.”
Ms. Stulsky, who worked for the town since 1980, submitted to the board a handwritten letter announcing her intent to retire last March. The board then approved a resolution accepting her “resignation.” Because Ms. Stulsky said she retired and did not resign, she claimed she was entitled to retiree health benefits.
The town disagreed with Ms. Stulsky’s reasoning.
In fact, during a Feb. 26 arbitration hearing the town argued Ms. Stulsky, a convicted felony, was “seeking permission through arbitration to steal several more thousand dollars from the town by claiming a benefit to which she is not entitled,” according to the arbitration decision (see below to read it in full).
The state requires that an application to enroll in benefits must be on file with the retirement system for at least 15 days before the retirement is effective. It also mandates that employees must continue to work up to and until the day before the retirement goes into effect.
In Ms. Stulsky’s case, her retirement would have gone into effect on April 8, 2014. However, the Town Board accepted her resignation on March 21, 2014, effectively terminating her employment.
Since was not considered an employee of the town on the last date immediately prior to retirement into the New York State Employees Retirement System, her request for benefits was denied, according to the arbitration decision.
The Town Board agreed to adopt and implement Mr. Grey’s recommendation during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
“The [CSEA] contract says you’ll retain your medial benefits if you are vested and if you retire from the position,” Mr. Russell said. “In this instance [Ms. Stulsky] resigned from the position, so it was the town’s determination she was not entitled to medial coverage. The issue went before an arbitrator who agreed with the town.”
Ms. Stulsky, who is currently jailed, pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny charges in January, admitting that she stole money from the town justice court’s bail fund, which she helped to manage.
Through her plea deal, Ms. Stulsky was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation March 11.
She also agreed to pay back $231,791 in funds that were stolen from the bail account over many years. A first payment of $50,000 has been received by the town.
Defendants in town court who did not have their bail money properly returned to them due to the theft can contact the town justice court to have their money returned.
With Joseph Pinciaro