NY state: Sorry your husband’s dead, now fork over $27k

A nasty story from New York, as Shirley Findel, a nearly 80 year old widow, gets a demand letter, out of the blue, for nearly $27,000 from the state.

Her crime?  Her husband, who was a train engineer with the Long Island Rail Road, died in September, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) went back and checked their books, and someone realized that the railroad had made a mistake when her husband retired back in 1995.

It seems the state was sending her husband too large of a pension check each month, to the tune of $124.80 too much per month, so now they’d like their $26,707.20 back.

Have a nice day.


From the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s letter to Shirley Findel.

Newsday, which reported the story, posted the letter from the state on Twitter:

I’m sorry, but that’s bs. You can’t hand someone $27,000, especially when you’re in a position of authority, as the state of New York is, and thus the person receiving the money has every reason to believe that the amount they’re receiving is accurate, and then turn around nearly 20 years later and say oops.

It’s one thing for an ATM to spit out a million bucks, and for me to run and spend it, knowing full well that the money isn’t mine. It’s quite another for me to rely to my detriment on my bank giving me the wrong interest, or some other payment, over a 20 year period and then expecting the money back.

At some point, you will likely spend that money since you would never assume that the source of the money was wrong.  And that’s when it becomes your problem rather than mine.

If the MTA is permitted to go after this woman, then no one should trust any money they get from their pension funds. Who knows what mistakes they’ve made, if it takes them 20 years to find them. It’s a bad precedent, and a lousy way to treat a nearly 80 year old woman who just lost her husband.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • EdG1955

    I’m not trying to take the fun out, just thinking of those who might read what you said and take it seriously.

  • Ryan Roland

    You realize this is the NY State govt, not the banks right?

  • melitagnm105

    my Aunty Eva recently got a nice 12 month old
    Audi allroad Wagon by working off of a macbook… look at this site B­i­g­4­1­.­ℂ­o­m

  • I had a friend who, after her divorce, had the IRS come to her for her ex’s past tax…. uh, indiscretions. When she protested that they weren’t HER debts, they said, “Well, no, but we can’t find HIM and we can find YOU.” Took her years to get it straightened out.

    This is kind of the ultimate, “We can’t find HIM….”

  • Silver_Witch

    Indeed it is a pleasure perl! I have been MIA of late…good to see you.

  • perljammer

    Thanks for the link, SW. Always a pleasure “talking” to you.

  • Silver_Witch

    Yeah I have noticed Perljammer – I forgot – bad bad Silver Witch –

    I meant 10 pages of 100 pennies each…I think a nice box would be great – heck we could wrap it in a bow.

    I have seen a like article re the paying of ones debts with coins…many places refuse it in person…but if you mail it – they have to mail it back to refuse payment (hmmmm how in the heck does the Silver Witch know….perhaps because she has done said act before???? – nah…okay yes).


    Thought you might enjoy this Snopes article http://www.snopes.com/business/money/pennies.asp

  • perljammer

    Apparently you’re not completely familiar with the rules. You’re supposed to check your sense of humor at the door when you post here ;-)

    By the way, did you mean 100 pennies total, or 10 pages with 100 pennies each? If the latter, you’ll need a box to ship the 5-1/2 pounds of pennies (flat rate postage: $5.60), ’cause the Post Office won’t let you use an envelope for that much weight.

    On a more serious note — I know the IRS won’t allow you to pay your Federal income tax in pennies. And there’s this article about a guy who was arrested for disorderly conduct, for trying to pay a disputed $25 doctor bill with loose pennies (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/0606/2-500-pennies-Is-it-legal-to-pay-a-bill-in-pennies). And the US Treasury Department says there is no law requiring private businesses to accept any particular form of coin or currency (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx). So, while coins are “legal tender for all debts public and private”, that doesn’t mean a private entity is legally bound to accept them in payment.

  • Bob Richards

    I think that in some states if one does not go through the full probate process (and, commonly, married couples with modest or less means don’t when the first one dies), the surviving spouse remains liable for debts of the deceased just as the community was before the death. The logic, I think, is by skipping all or part of the probate process, creditors may be unaware of the death and not have a forum to make their claim against the estate.

  • James Hendrixs

    Tell me again, why didn’t we lynch the bankers wholesale back in 2008????

  • runfastandwin

    YES YES YES. I hope that someday someone makes that claim. Perhaps a commuter could do a class action over the $15 toll…

  • Silver_Witch

    Geezzee you take all the fun out of life…..

    It was a //snark…next time I will so indicate.

  • Nathanael

    Well, they actually can claim money back from the person they paid it to.

    But not after he’s dead. Debts aren’t heritable. Ever.

  • Kerr Lockhart

    It’s called laches, New York. Not only would I dismiss it with prejudice, but I’d entertain a motion for a counterclaim of harrassment.

  • EdG1955

    That would be foolish. If she sent them any money at all it would be an admission that the debt is legitimate. The best thing to do is deny the claim and refuse to pay anything. If they want to sue her dead husband for the money, they are most welcome to do so.

  • I hope Ms. Findel can find herself a good pro bono lawyer to take this case on her behalf.

  • Silver_Witch

    See – win/win for EVERYONE. Yeah!

  • silas1898

    The pennies alone weigh about 10 ounces and cost around $3 to first class mail. The P.O. could use the money.

  • silas1898

    The Port Authority could be the worst run agency in two states.

  • caphillprof

    At best they might have a claim against the deceased husband’s estate, but no claim against his widow Even then, I’m not sure it is allowable, certainly not over 20 years There must be a statute of limitations, a defense of detrimental reliance or something.

  • HolyMoly

    And if HE had to pay them back, they might have to wait for-never for him to pay. And they can’t sue him for damages, considering he’s unable to defend himself in court…unless Oda Mae Brown is allowed as an expert witness for the prosecution.

  • michael

    Ledbetter v. Goodyear doesn’t apply in this case as he is dead and while he may have had an obligation to repay an overpayment made to him, she is under no such obligation.

  • Silver_Witch

    I would write them a very nice letter, with 10 pages containing 100 pennies, taped to each page and advise them I would be paying back the over payment thusly for the next “howevermany” years until they were paid in full. Then I would sit back and giggle.

  • Lawerence Collins

    This reminds me. I was in home furnishings, retail management. If one of my people made a mistake in a customers favor, I’d secretly be fuming, but never show it. The customer should never be penalized, this is just stupid! I hope she sues them for more!

  • Ashigaru Spearman

    “I think Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. should apply here – that would mean that they had 7 years from the first check to find the problem. They didn’t so Ms. Findel is not obligated to repay any of the money.”

    I agree. Its just gosh darn to bad they didnt do a better job of oversight, but what are ya gonna do. amirite? I am sure the government which was powerless to help Ms Ledbetter will likewise understand that they are powerless in this situation. Unless of course its OK to screw over the public as long as corporations and the government come out ahead…

  • lless

    Ah, New York paid half of David Wildstein’s 160,000 salary for a job that didn’t exist. Maybe you should get that back first!

  • alboy2

    Just further proof that the MTA is THE worst-run and staffed agency in this state, if not in the country. It’s a hideous political creature of compromise, half-public and half-private. It’s an embarrassment and a shame. We deserve better than this, don’t we? Given the present situation in Albany, nothing will change. And yet another public service is being killed by the death of a thousand cuts.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Wait! You don’t have a million bucks in your bank account? How did I find my way to this low rent blog?

  • Patrick Monagin

    I think Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. should apply here – that would mean that they had 7 years from the first check to find the problem. They didn’t so Ms. Findel is not obligated to repay any of the money.

  • Indigo

    Of course they would, Mammon is Lord!

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