SAMUEL FORTUNATO SWORN INTO NJ'S TOP INSURANCE POST SOME QUESTION INSURER PENSION

SAMUEL FORTUNATO SWORN INTO NJ'S TOP INSURANCE POST SOME QUESTION INSURER PENSION

The Joint Committee on Ethical Standards will hold a hearing April 19 to determine if Samuel F. Fortunato, the state insurance commissioner, has a conflict of interest because of the $100,900 pension and benefits he receives

from Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Mr. Fortunato spent 30 years at the firm, retiring as president and chairman of the board in 1986.Mr. Fortunato and three other members of Gov. Jim Florio's cabinet were sworn into office during ceremonies Monday at the State Museum auditorium.

Joining Mr. Fortunato were Vito Morgano, adjutant general; Wilfredo Caraballo, public advocate; and Jeff Connor, banking commissioner.

Mr. Fortunato's pension has been questioned by some lawmakers who wonder if it could affect his decisions on the industry. The issue was sent to the

commission by the Florio administration.

The Joint Committee on Ethical Standards is compromised of eight members of the Legislature, four from the Senate and four from the General Assembly. They are equally divided along party lines.

Gov. Florio said Monday he is "convinced there is no conflict."

"These are payments for services rendered to that company," said Gov. Florio. "The insurance industry is suing me (claiming the governor's auto insurance reform measures unfairly punish insurers)," he said. "For them to say this will benefit the industry is a little bit strange."

Mr. Fortunato, 60, said following his swearing-in that he would make ''every effort tochange the insurance climate for the people of New Jersey."

Mr. Caraballo, 43, said his new job as public advocate, the department that monitors state and private agencies to make sure their actions are in the public interest, will put him "on the side of the angels."

Recalling how the tough streets in his neighborhood robbed the dreams of many he grew up with, Mr. Caraballo said he would keep a special eye on state departments, "because these departments deal with the problems I grew up knowing firsthand."

Mr. Caraballo was an associate dean and professor of law at Seton Hall University when Gov. Florio selected him for the job.

Mr. Connor, 43, said his swearing in as banking commissioner "is a proud day for me." He most recently was senior vice president corporate counsel and secretary of the Carteret Savings Bank.