Ethics & The Loophole
I was looking for some information on a company that wants to build student housing in Plattsburgh when the name Karen Hitchcock popped up. I was puzzled. Why would this former president of the University of Albany be linked to that company?
I ended up reading a few articles that appeared in the Albany Times-Union and the New York Times newspapers back in 2005. They revealed the existence of The Loophole.
If a state employee was being investigated on ethics charges, he could effectively stop the inquiry by quitting or resigning. All ethics investigations could only be conducted while the accused collected a state paycheck.
Karen Hitchcock resigned from UAlbany back in 2004, taking another position in Ontario, Canada. After her resignation it was revealed she was being investigated on ethics charges in regards to her connection with a local developer. The developer, Walter Uccellini, is the founder of the United Group of Companies. That’s why Hitchcock’s name appeared in my search engine hits.
An allegation was made that Hitchcock was trying to push building projects for Uccellini in exchange for Uccellinni to endow a university professorship for her to fill.
Hitchcock has denied any wrongdoing. She has stated she would like to see a full, impartial inquiry to clear her name. But since she left her UAlbany position, the ethics inquiry was stopped.
Of course, some speculate that Hitchcock took advantage of The Loophole to avoid any penalties if the ethics board ruled against her.
So it’s an open question: What really happened with Hitchcock and her dealings with Uccellini?
Talk about a gray area.
Before leaving office, former Governor George Pataki signed a law that closed The Loophole. The Ethics Commission can now pursue any complaints even if employees leave the state payroll.
This doesn’t change the situation for Karen Hitchcock. Maybe she could get another NY State job and restart the ethics probe.