Corruption

No Wonder She Never Tackled the Shopaholism Epidemic

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I always thought that Antonia Novello, the first President Bush's surgeon general, hated Joe Camel because she believed he encouraged teenagers to smoke. But maybe it was his T-shirt-heavy wardrobe that offended her. A report released yesterday by New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch portrays Novello, who was the state's health commissioner from 1999 through 2006, as a fashionista who conscripted state employees to take her shopping at Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. Fisch estimates that two security guards, a "confidential aide," and a fraud investigator (!) racked up $48,000 in overtime pay on hundreds of different occasions while chaffeuring Novello to her favorite stores and performing other personal errands for her, including grocery shopping, taking her mother to the airport, and watering the plants and rearranging the furniture in her apartment. In 2003, responding to complaints about Novello's inappropriate demands, Dennis Whalen, the department's deputy executive director, wrote her a memo:

When you are not in official travel status, and when you are not acting in your official capacity as the State Health Commissioner, avoid the use of the drivers or state staff.

Never under any circumstances request or direct that an employee perform a personal (non-state) service for you or conduct personal business on your behalf.

Novello took this message to heart, instructing her subordinates to do a better job of concealing the time they spent picking up her dry cleaning or holding her bags at Albany's Colonie Center Mall. Evidently Novello, now a vice president at Disney Children's Hospital in Orlando, was dissatisfied with her $196,000 salary as health commissioner and thought she deserved a staff of personal servants. One of the security guards, Charles Williams, reported that

people routinely saw him at the shopping mall with Novello, who would verbally abuse him in public. She "always yelled" if she bought expensive items and he didn't carry or handle them correctly. "(S)he would embarrass you anywhere," he said.

Williams finally broke free at the very end of Novello's tenure:

Williams's final assignment was on December 25, 2006, when Novello ordered him to leave his home at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning to drive her to the Newark airport for a flight to Puerto Rico. When she returned in early January 2007, he refused to pick her up in Newark because she was no longer DOH Commissioner.

Fisch said Novello "shamelessly and blatantly exploited and abused her staff, adding a new dimension to the definition of 'arrogance' and 'chutzpah.' " He said she not only misappropriated state resources but lied on her taxes by dramatically understating her personal use of a state vehicle (which the IRS considers a form of compensation). Fisch has referred the matter to Albany District Attorney P. David Soares for possible prosecution; the charges could include defrauding the government and offering a false instrument for filing.

Novello declined to be interviewed for the report (PDF) and for the New York Times story about it. Asked whether Novello in fact abused her staff in the manner described by Fisch, her attorney told the Times, "That sounds highly unlikely and completely out of character. Saying it's so doesn't make it so."

NEXT: Eroding the Exclusionary Rule

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  1. Hey,

    Those Woodbury Outlets are pretty nice. I picked up some good shirts and some hiking equipment on sale for pretty cheap.

  2. Sounds about right for most of Bush’s appointees.

  3. Naga,

    This is Bush 41’s appointee, not the recently unemployed Bush 43. And she did the shopping after she left the Surgeon General’s job.

    And why wouldn’t she? Years of dressing in a snazzy, government-provided uniform left her with an unquenchable thirst for haute coutre. The uniform was like some sort of gateway to a downward spiral of clothing addiction. No doubt, she was mainpulated by slick corporate marketing as well.

  4. Imagine the look on her face when her personal “gofer boy” told her to go F herself I aint picking your butt up B*^%h! Which is I am sure closer to what he really said than was in the article

    Having to cater to a B – humiliating

    Having to go out on x-mas morning – rude

    Getting to hang up and leave her stranded at the newark airport – F”ing PRICELESS

  5. Caption Contest!

    “What the hell are you looking at? Flip that mattress like I told you to, then get on those dishes. Stop wasting taxpayer money!”

  6. Ah. My apologies. I suffer from tunnel vision at times.

  7. And denyin’ it don’t make it not true!

  8. SpongePaul,

    Strangely enough, there is a server like this at my work. She is under the impression I’m a busboy or food runner.

    “Naga can you bring a pitcher of tea to my table?”

    “Naga can you go find this particular bottle of wine and bring it to my table?”

    “Naga can you run an amuse to my table?”

  9. With the right folks in charge …

  10. Novello also showed me a can of Coke with a pubic hair in it and often subjected me to her graphically detailed discriptions of porn films she had seen the night before. Long Dong Silver to name just one.

  11. Naga Sadow,

    What kind of work do you do?

  12. I am sure that a lot of those overtime hours are made up as well. The people who were accounting for their time being personal servants and charging the health department could have padded any number of bonus hours on their time sheet. If the Commish got mad, they could just blow the whistle. So she would have to run cover for them. If she didn’t like the amount overcharged, she would just go pick on someone else. The servant people are not helpless victums, they are accomplices.

  13. Bartender.

  14. Bartender.

    So you have knives. Use a couple handfuls of them.

  15. Hmmmmmm. No can do. The whole potential for prison rape is to great. I could work out the formula for ya but it would be full of coeffecients, variables, frequency tabulations, etc. Easier to just tell her I would but am to lazy in following orders whereby I’m NOT to move from the bar unless I have no other choice.

  16. She went shopping at Colonie Center back before 2007? It wasn’t even renovated then. Sure, NOW it’s nice, but pre-2006.
    Ew

  17. taking her mother to the airport, and watering the plants and rearranging the furniture in her apartment.

    Be a man working in a office run by women. This won’t seem so strange. When you’re the lone man in the office full of women, there’s a lot of furniture moving in your future.

  18. Paul,

    Try being a 6 foot 1 me-chung in an Asian restaurant where you must reach for everything for everyone. Then you shall know my burden.

  19. “She went shopping at Colonie Center back before 2007? It wasn’t even renovated then. Sure, NOW it’s nice, but pre-2006.
    Ew”

    Yeah, now they have a Cheesecake Factory but unfortunately not the same Cheesecake Factory the cast of Big Bang Theory goes to. 🙁

    Digital Movie Theatre and new restaurants aside, The Christmas Tree Shoppe is still pretty ghetto if you ask me.

  20. LL Bean store = the awesome

  21. Hey Naga! i think i rem reading you are from MS. If so, check out the MS libertarian page. 2009 convention coming up

  22. WTF? There’s a convention in Mississippi? In Mississippi? Hot damn!

  23. I’m a libertarian applying to Ole Miss’ law school. Put up some links or something, my man.

  24. Father Sarducci blessed the entire staff before they went on personal runs for the ex Surgeon General so it was OK. Is a Surgeon General a competent general surgeon?

  25. …and it took Mr. Inspector General six years (assuming the indiscretions began in 2003) to figure this out. I wonder what the half-life of the career of a private company middle manager would be if (s)he were doing stuff like this.

  26. How about Pataki’s earlier Health Commissioner Barbara DeBuono? She ended up resigning for repeated shoplifting at local stores.

    It was the Hannaford grocery store at Latham Farms that finally couldn’t take it (since she’d been let go many times as a favor) and did her in for walking out with bagels, goat cheese and hot dog rolls.

    That became the joke meal for us in the Health Department at the time. 🙂

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