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‘Investigation’ into garage mismanagement completed; no charges coming

02/11/2016 11:00 AM |

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No criminal charges will be filed against a town municipal garage employee who took advantage of the town’s state contracts to buy parts at a discounted rate for personal use, while also avoiding sales tax in the process.

The allegation was one of several contained in a recent audit of Riverhead Town’s Municipal Garage, completed by the town’s Independent Audit Advisory Committee, although most of the others dealt with oversight issues.

“There is no daily oversight of the municipal garage,” audit committee chairman Jack Orben told the Town Board in presenting the audit last month.

In separate interviews this week, most town officials weren’t citing specifics, but implied that the situation involving the personal use of the town’s discount has been investigated by an outside agency and there won’t be any criminal charges.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she was told the District Attorney’s Office investigated the situation. Nobody else confirmed that, however.

“The appropriate officials were contacted and no charges are pending,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “They did a investigation and no charges came out of it. It was nothing that would be prosecuted.”

Mr. Hubbard said an outside agency investigated the case although he declined to say what outside agency.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter also wouldn’t say.

“That has been investigated,” Mr. Walter said, while declining to say who investigated it. “Believe me, I’m not going go any further than to say that since the first day I sort of took over the oversight of the town garage, it has been investigated by many different organizations and I’ll leave it at that.”

He said he got more involved in the oversight of the municipal garage after John Reeve retired at the start of 2015. Mr. Reeve had been the department head of municipal garage as well as of the sanitation department and the yard waste facility.

Mr. Walter said Ken Testa and Drew Dillingham of the engineering department were put in charge of the municipal garage in Janusart 2015 as part of a town consolidation of departments following several retirements. But he also said the municipal garage, which only has three mechanics and a clerk, has been in a “holding pattern” until town officials can determine how it should be managed.

“The bottom line is that the municipal garage was put in the engineering department by me and the Town Board as sort of a holding pattern until we can figure out all the issues in the town garage,” the supervisor said.

Much of what came out in the audit report in January was known to town officials long before that, he said.

Mr. Testa and Mr. Dillingham told the auditors they are very busy with engineering and buildings and grounds issues, and don’t have enough time to devote to managing the municipal garage.

Asked if the case has been referred to a branch of law enforcement, such as the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, Mr. Walter would only say, “Suffice it to say that all appropriate levels of government have investigated the town garage thoroughly and I will just leave it at that.”

“I don’t think it warrants going to a District Attorney and getting an indictment,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. “It was a one-time deal and he’s been here for years.”

The identity of the town employee who used the town’s discount to buy parts has remained concealed.

When the audit committee presented their report to the Town Board at its Jan. 28 work session, committee members said they didn’t know who used the town’s discounted rate for parts.

In an interview this week, Mr. Wooten said the town does know, although he wouldn’t identify the person.

“He’s been reprimanded for it, and it hasn’t happened again,” Mr. Wooten said. “It was dealt with at the time. I don’t think it rises to the level of an indictment. I think a reprimand and a letter in his file is good enough.”

Mr. Walter said the audit committee’s report, which examined 18 months, was completed in the fall but the town held off on presenting it at a public work session until they could coordinate it with a presentation from the town’s outside auditors, which didn’t happen until Jan. 28.

Mr. Walter said the town is still working on setting up the proper management of the municipal garage and nothing has been decided yet, although he believes a decision should come in the next 30 days.

“Most of the issues in the audit have been corrected,” Mr. Walter said. “I’d say 75 percent of them were corrected before the audit was even presented to the town board. The remaining 25 percent have been corrected since, with the exception of redefining the management.”

Mr. Walter said the municipal garage has been an ongoing problem for 10 to 15 years.

The Independent Audit Advisory Committee was established five years ago and is an all-volunteer committee with a paid accountant.

“The residents should be very glad we instituted an internal audit committee five years ago,” Mr. Walter said. “That was one of the best things that we did.”

The committee has done reports on the municipal garage, the building department, the recreation department, the community development department and the personnel department, Mr. Walter said.

Bob Clifford, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, declined to confirm the existence of any criminal investigation.

“If something criminal was done, the DA should be involved and criminal charges should be pursued,” said Ms. Giglio. “But it’s my understanding that everything that happened was under consent and we put the proper control measures in place. “

She feels the municipal garage should be under the control of the highway department.

Councilman John Dunleavy says he doesn’t think the offense warranted criminal charges. Unlike Mr. Wooten, he said the town doesn’t know which employee was involved.

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