WHEATFIELD – The SPCA of Niagara reneged on its promises of lifetime health insurance and life insurance, the organization’s former executive director contended in a lawsuit filed last week.
Albert J. Chille, 87, said in his State Supreme Court suit that the SPCA board voted twice to give him the benefits, but they were cut off last year.
Chille, a Lewiston resident, ran the SPCA from July 1981 until October 2009, when he resigned under fire from animal activists over his management of the agency.
The SPCA board in 2008 voted 10-2 to buy Chille a $25,000 life insurance policy and Blue Cross/Blue Shield family health coverage for the rest of his life. The benefits were bestowed in lieu of a pay raise, the lawsuit said.
It was a re-adoption of a move made sometime in the 1990s, for which no written records could be found. However, three older board members and one former member said at the time that they remembered the original vote. Three provided sworn affidavits to that effect.
Chille’s attorney, Charles J. Naughton, said the benefits were provided through the group coverage of the Niagara Falls Board of Education. Chille retired from the district as an assistant school superintendent in 1981 and soon thereafter took the SPCA job.
Naughton, a one-time human resources director for Niagara County, said the school administrators’ collective bargaining agreement gave Chille full paid health insurance, but only until he turned 65, which occurred in 1991.
Naughton said Chille’s benefit situation started to come unglued right after his departure from the SPCA. The life insurance policy was supposed to be converted from a term life plan to a whole life plan on Chille’s retirement, but it wasn’t.
“They didn’t realize there was a window to do that,” Naughton said.
The SPCA informed Chille in February 2011 that he was no longer eligible for the group life policy. The SPCA board voted the following month to “self-fund” Chille’s life insurance.
Naughton said, “They offered him a buyout amount, and he was reluctant to take a check because it’s taxable, and life insurance isn’t.”
As for the health insurance, the SPCA was reimbursing the Falls school district for Chille’s premiums until July 2011, but Chille’s lawsuit says he wasn’t told.
He received a bill from the Board of Education in December 2012, asking that he pay the district $12,809 for premiums retroactive to July 2011 as well as premiums for future coverage through the end of 2012.
The letter from district human resources manager Ray Granieri warned Chille that he would be billed quarterly for health insurance, starting in 2013.
Chille asked attorney David G. Boniello to help him, but on Jan. 25, SPCA attorney Joshua I. Ramos rejected Boniello’s request that Chille’s health insurance premiums be paid again by the SPCA.
The lawsuit seeks restoration of the life insurance coverage for Chille and his wife as well as reimbursement for the health insurance premiums and resumption of SPCA-paid coverage.
“I think Mr. Chille’s position might be incorrect,” Ramos said. He declined further comment on the case, saying he hadn’t read Chille’s complaint.