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Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 11:48 am

No resolution yet in alleged financial irregularities in Village of Corfu Court

post by Howard Owens in corfu, Village of Corfu

The wheels of justice can sometimes turn slowly, especially, it seems, when it comes to investigating the operations of judicial departments.

Sometime earlier this year, the state's Judicial Review Commission opened an investigation into alleged financial irregularities in the Village of Corfu Court.

The months-long process, according to documents obtained by The Batavian through a FOIL request, has village officials wondering when they might be able to file an insurance claim and get reimbursed for money they suspect was stolen from the court.

The allegations of missing funds first came to light with the release of an audit by the state comptroller's office that found at least $30,000 in alleged irregularities in the amount of fines collected, bail money received and reports filed with state agencies.

The village has attempted to file a claim for at least $10,000 with its insurance carrier, but the carrier demands further documentation before it will review the claim.

Internal emails obtain through the FOIL request reveal a degree of frustration and concern among village officials over the lengthy process to settle the matter.

The State Police, according to village officials, are unwilling to launch their own investigation until the Judicial Review Commission completes its work for fear of hampering that investigation.

According to village Attorney Mark Boylan, the commission is a deliberative body that works slowly and takes its time to check and weigh every fact.

An email within the FOIL package indicates that the commission has requested and received "a lot of paperwork."

That's probably the same kind of paperwork needed by the insurance carrier.

"The insured does need to present documentation that would prove they sustained a loss from employee dishonesty for coverage to be provided," wrote Julie Diehl, a property specialist for Glatfelter Claims Management of York, Pa., in a letter to Boylan. "This does require a high level of documentation and each transaction claimed must be shown to us."

The village must also prove that the bonded employee converted the money for personal financial gain.

"The narrative of the audit report ... does not speak to employee dishonesty rather to poor record keeping and a cash shortage due to that poor record keeping. So it is even more important to present the financial records, receipts, bank statements and cashbook entries and other documentation available to show the clerk diverted the monies to obtain personal gain."

Boylan responded and told Diehl "The Village Justice maintains all of his own books and records ... and the village does not have access to those records at this time."

Until the investigation by the commission is completed, and possibly until the State Police complete an investigation, those records probably cannot be turned over to the insurance company.

Glatfelter originally demanded it receive the records by June 6, but the village has been granted a 60-day extension and may apply for further extensions every 60 days as necessary, according to the documents.

For the period covered by the comptroller's audit, Brandi Watts, the daughter of Village of Corfu Justice Robert Alexander, was working as Alexander's clerk. 

Watts was eventually dismissed by the village board after discovering under state law Watts was too close of a relation to Alexander to be working for him and an appeal by Alexander to the state was denied.

According to the FOIL'd documents, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman plans to seek the appointment a special prosecutor (or special district attorney to handle the case).

In an interview this week, Friedman declined to discuss the specific case, but explained that whenever his office might have a conflict of interest -- in this case, working closely with an arm of the judicial branch -- Friedman can petition Judge Robert Noonan to appoint a special district attorney.

The DA is usually selected from one of the surrounding counties.

Because there have been no criminal charges filed in this case, no such request has been sent to Noonan, Friedman said.

The documents received by The Batavian indicate a good deal of ongoing conflict between Alexander and the village board. Officials are concerned the situation is disrupting the normal operations of the court, which is another reason they're eager to get the situation resolved.

"We need to ensure that justice is being served and people’s cases are being heard and the job is being performed," Boylan said.

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