BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – New York’s top ethics panel has accused a respected state veterans affairs counselor of breaking the law by accepting money and expensive gifts from an elderly veteran she was counseling.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics held a two-day public hearing at the Mahoney State Office Building in Buffalo, Wednesday and Thursday to hear testimony supporting Tracy Kinn, or bolstering JCOPE’s case against her.
A stream of veterans told an independent hearing officer they are convinced Tracy Kinn saved their lives, using her knowledge to maximize services and benefits for them.
Iraq War veteran Chris Kreiger was among the grateful war veterans. Kreiger, president of the veterans advocacy group WNY Heroes, testified he was on his death bed until Kinn lifted him up.
Kinn’s attorney, Mark Farrell said many of the veterans believe they owe their lives to Kimm, “for her over-and-above dedication to veterans’ benefits, and to going after whatever is possible to achieve for a disabled vet, without acceptance of gift or reward.”
But Kinn did accept gifts from one of the veterans she counseled, Charles Matie, who fought in World War Two–worth about $500,000–including a BMW, Matie’s $170,000 annuity, and was made the sole beneficiary in his will.
Kinn was also a friend of Matie’s before taking the job at the Division of Veterans Affairs, and told her superiors at DVA.
JCOPE attorney Emily Logue said they can be friends, but state ethics law forbids public officers from accepting gifts, “It also needs to be clear where the lines are, the lines to accepting gifts. That gifts are simply not appropriate, but she does not draw the line.”
Logue also contended, Kinn’s relationship with Matie seemed to escalate after the formal counseling started, “There is no evidence that prior to starting to work with Mr. Matie on his claims that they had a friendship of the type that would result in his leaving her nearly a half million dollars.”
Farrell pointed out Kinn was able to increase Matie’s benefits from about $100 to $2,000/month, and described their relationship as “de facto father and daughter.”
“She and her husband knew this man, entertained him in their home, had him for holidays. He did not necessarily have the attention of much of his family, and over a period of years, he developed an affection for her totally unrelated to what she did at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Matie died in 2010, leaving his estate to Kimm. As one of the veterans told the hearing officer, she was “the only one who cared.”
Two years ago the State Inspector General was also critical of the relationship between Kinn and Matie, but found the policy at the Division of Veterans Affairs was so vague they had to change the regulations.
Officials said, it could be sometime next year before JCOPE decides what form of discipline, if any, to take in this case.