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Attorney: Jefferson County keeping money from embattled undersheriff

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It appears that even in retirement, Jefferson County Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff will be doing battle with county officials.

Even though Mr. Neff retires today, his attorney says the county is trying to keep money to which Mr. Neff is entitled away from him.

Mr. Neff has been suspended with pay since Oct. 25, when allegations surfaced that he was carrying on a relationship with a convicted felon in violation of departmental policy.

Nathaniel G. Lambright, Syracuse, who is representing Mr. Neff in negotiations with Jefferson County, said that justice has not been done in this case and that he is confident Mr. Neff eventually will be vindicated.

Mr. Lambright also said that the county changed his client’s status from “suspended with pay” to “suspended without pay” on Jan. 1 without notifying him or Mr. Neff — an action Mr. Lambright described as “mind-boggling,” considering that no charges have been brought against Mr. Neff.

On Jan. 1, “they immediately started charging his accrued time,” Mr. Lambright said, adding that the county was seeking to reclaim 240 hours from Mr. Neff.

David J. Paulsen, attorney for Jefferson County, says that isn’t so.

“He was suspended with pay and he was paid throughout that period,” Mr. Paulsen said.

The issue hinges on the vacation and other personal days Mr. Neff has accrued during his 25-year career with the Sheriff’s Department.

Typically, at retirement, a county employee receives payment for any outstanding vacation time he has on the books.

In this case, the county is using that time to pay Mr. Neff while he serves out the remainder of his suspension before retiring today.

Mr. Lambright is claiming that this practice is wrong and that Mr. Neff should continue to receive his regular salary while on suspension, then be paid for his accrued vacation time upon retirement.

According to the arrangement the county has structured, Mr. Neff apparently will receive no money for his accrued vacation time.

Just as it will not stop the state police investigation, Mr. Neff’s retirement will not stop his attorney’s negotiations with the county.

Mr. Paulsen said the county is willing to communicate with Mr. Lambright for “a reasonable amount of time” following Mr. Neff’s retirement if Mr. Lambright can come up with a legal precedent for his position.

Mr. Lambright said Mr. Neff will receive all his other retirement benefits. “He’s done nothing illegal and is fully entitled to them,” Mr. Lambright said.

Mr. Neff is accused of having a relationship with convicted felon Michele R. Bowens and of using his county-issued cellphone to send lewd pictures to her, spurring an investigation by state police. Ms. Bowens also claims that Mr. Neff offered to intercede with the district attorney on her behalf after her latest indictment became public in October. Through her attorney, Charu Narang, Sackets Harbor, Ms. Bowens has filed a notice of claim against the county, a necessary precursor to a lawsuit.

Ms. Bowens is facing three years in state prison after pleading guilty to two felonies on Jan. 25. She was previously sentenced to 1 to three years in prison in December 2007 and was released in September 2008, which is when she claims her relationship with Mr. Neff began. She maintains that the relationship started while she was working as an informant for the Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force, of which Mr. Neff was a member.

“It’s unfortunate that (Mr. Neff) is leaving at a time when these accusations are out there and haven’t been put to bed. … He’s given 25 years of dedicated service to Jefferson County and he’s proud of his career,” Mr. Lambright said. “It’s amazing to me how far the word of a felon can take somebody.”

Mr. Neff released a statement on Tuesday announcing his retirement. In the statement, Mr. Neff spoke highly of his colleagues in the department and recalled with fondness the time he spent working as the first DARE officer for the Sheriff’s Department.

“I can say without reservation that my retirement is based on 25+ years of service to the fine people of Jefferson County whom I am honored and privileged to have served,” Mr. Neff said.

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