Former State Health Commish Pleads Not Guilty

Former Surgeon General Antonia Novello pleaded not guilty Tuesday to forcing state employees to work overtime to handle her personal chores when she was New York's health commissioner.

Novello entered the plea in Albany County Court, where prosecutors unsealed a 20-count indictment that included a charge of defrauding the government, a felony.

Novello was released after being ordered to surrender her passport to her lawyer, E. Stewart Jones.

Prosecutors said Novello used state workers to chauffeur her on shopping trips and rearrange heavy furniture at her apartment while she was New York's top health official from 1999 to 2006.

She previously served as surgeon general under President George H.W. Bush, being named to the post in 1990 and serving until 1993.

The state inspector general said the 2,500 hours of overtime put in by the workers cost taxpayers about $48,000.

Novello didn't comment after her arraignment, but Jones said the charges were politically motivated.

"She is here because she has a bull's-eye on her back," he said. "Because politics is a contact sport. Because there are people who are vindictive and who wanted to get her ever since she left the state."

Former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, appointed Novello. The charges against her were filed by Inspector General Joseph Fisch, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. David Paterson.

The investigation started in July 2007 under former Inspector General Kristine Hamann, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

"The facts speak for themselves," Fisch said in response to Jones' allegation that the charges were politically motivated.

Novello was paid $256,000 per year while she was health commissioner.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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