Judge rules accused veterans counselor ‘acted properly’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Tracy Kinn, a veterans counselor for the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs, is hoping her three-year nightmare will soon be over. The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics accused Kinn of violating New York’s Public Officers Law by enriching herself through an improper relationship with an older veteran she was counseling.

JCOPE took those charges to a due process hearing last fall, and the hearing officer has made his recommendation in Kinn’s favor. Kinn is a former Marine, is well-liked and well-respected by those veterans who know her. Many of those veterans showed up to testify on her behalf at that hearing. For Kinn, it was like being on trial for her life.

Accusations of an improper relationship between Kinn and an older veteran that she counseled, Charles “Slim” Matie, led to three charges by JCOPE that Tracy had broken the law. Those charges were heard last November by retired federal Circuit Judge George Pratt at the state office building in Buffalo.

Kinn’s attorney Mark Farrell argued the gifts she received from Matie were outside the period she was acting as his advocate, “This was a father-daughter relationship that existed several years before she ever came to work for the Division of Veterans Affairs.”

In its case against Kinn, JCOPE called for nearly $500,000 in penalties and restitution for the gifts she received from the aging World War Two veteran, including a new BMW, his house, and she was made sole beneficiary of his will.

Farrell said Tracy Kinn and her husband John are happily married, and that amount of money “would destroy them.” Farrell added, “we would have to start with the premise she did something wrong, and Judge Pratt specifically said she did not, and then secondly, you would have to have some basis for saying the state was entitled to it, and that is not true either.”

Judge Pratt has issued his recommendation to JCOPE in a 28-page ruling, “that no penalty be assessed against Tracy Kinn, and that all charges against her be withdrawn.”

Farrell said the state’s formal investigation into Kinn’s relationship with Matie started in 2014, “There is absolutely no basis for why this woman was drug through the mire for the last three years, and had her reputation–as probably one of the best, most professional, and most dedicated veterans counselors in the business–to have her maligned and impugned the way she was.”

But Farrell concedes, JCOPE still holds Tracy’s future in their hands. They can accept the judge’s recommendation and withdraw all charges, they can modify his decision, with some form of discipline, or they can overrule the judge completely–a judge they hired–and take stronger action, up to and including termination.

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