Police seize Chatham village records

CHATHAM–Tuesday morning State Police and agents of the state Department of Taxation and Finance and the state Comptroller’s Office arrived at the Tracy Memorial Village Hall with a warrant signed by County Court Judge Jonathan Nichols. They were there to seize documents and take village computers back to the state offices so the data could be copied.

They also searched and seized and took equipment from the home of former Village Treasurer Barbara Henry.

Police were in the Tracy Memorial Village Hall from shortly after 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. No one other than Village Clerk Debra Meyers, village trustees and the mayor was allowed in the building.
Mayor Tom Curran, after he was allowed into the building and told about the warrant, said that the officers were collecting information at this time.

A statement from county District Attorney Paul Czajka released Tuesday afternoon, January 8, said, “This search warrant continues the preliminary investigation undertaken by the New York State Police, State Comptroller DiNapoli, and the Columbia County District Attorney into possible irregularities with village finances. Investigators seized a large volume of paper records and computers. Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty and New York State Police Investigator Feroze Munim had presented the search warrant application to County Court earlier this week.”

The Village Board released a statement Tuesday night on the village’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/VillageofChathamNY) saying the board and all current village officials support the inquiry by the state investigators. The Village Clerk’s Office was closed all day Tuesday and Wednesday, with plans to reopen on Thursday, January 10.

The Village Board recently discovered that the village owed $47,561.90 in back state payroll taxes. According to a statement from the Village Board in December, the taxes were not paid from the 4th quarter of 2015 through the 2nd quarter of 2018. The money for the taxes was deposited in the village fund balance account, according to the mayor. The statement from the village says the money was “not an expenditure of the village, but an accumulation of taxes withheld on behalf of employees that should have been remitted to NYS Taxation over the abovementioned period.”

The statement said that the state taxation department had visited the village and discovered the unpaid taxes. The state Comptroller’s Offices conducted a financial Risk Assessment Review in the village in July after Trustee Jay Rippel reached out to the comptroller’s office with concerns.

Since the state’s original visit, “the current [village] treasurer has paper filed all forms outstanding and submitted a check for $47,561.90 to New York State for withholdings,” the December statement says. But the village may still have to pay up to $25,000 in penalties for the late payment.

The village also discovered last summer that over $52,000 in payroll taxes had not been paid to the federal IRS. That money was also in the village budget, like the state payroll taxes, but according to current Village Treasurer Robert Patterson, the federal taxes had been paid “sporadically” over the last few years. Mr. Patterson, who was the village accountant, was appointed village treasurer in early August. The former treasurer, Barbara Henry, left the position in July though her official resignation date was late August.

Ms. Henry stood outside her house on Brookside Avenue on Tuesday morning as police searched it. She told The Columbia Paper that no one had asked her about the accounting issues. “It was a mistake,” she said, adding, “It was a misunderstanding.”

She also said police took her computer and her phone.

At a board meeting in August, Ms. Henry made a statement about why she resigned as treasurer. She said she had indicated to Mayor Curran in June that she wanted to resign in October due to family obligations and commitments at her other job. She said she’d already cut back her hours as treasurer. She also worked with Mr. Patterson, the current village treasurer, when he was working at the accounting firm used by the village, Sickler, Torchia, Allen & Churchill. She continue work with Mr. Patterson after he left the firm.

The Village Board hired Mr. Patterson to be village accountant in March after terminating the board’s contract with Sickler, Torchia.

Ms. Henry was hired as village administrator in 2012. She became the clerk/treasurer in 2014 and was appointed treasurer in 2017.

The Village Board had been waiting to hear if the state would conduct an audit of the village books after the state reviewed the Risk Assessment. Mayor Curran said he did not know they would be coming to seize documents, though he did say the village had already shared “boxes and boxes” of information with the state.

In the statement on Facebook, the Village Board says, the course and status of the inquiry is determined by the state “and the village is therefore limited in its ability to provide detailed updates.

The village will continue to support all necessary inquiry to correct and fully resolve these matters, and will continue to advise the public of developments and progress to the extent that it is able.”
The village does not yet know whether village taxpayers will have to shoulder state penalties for the late taxes. But taxpayers must pay $18,112 in penalties owed to the IRS. The board is looking into whether the village insurance will cover the penalty payments.

In the press release from the district attorney’s office, Mr. Czajka said he wanted to assure residents and taxpayers of the village that he is “hopeful that the investigation will provide a definitive determination of the cause of recent financial issues so that solutions can be explored.” But he cautioned that “the investigation is far from over and that the presence of troopers and investigators does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that criminal activity has occurred.”
The next Village Board meeting will be Monday, January 14 at 7 p.m.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1560764985epapa1560764985ibmul1560764985oc@el1560764985adsae1560764985te1560764985

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