Tallman Fire District Audit Raises Questions About Propriety of Former Treasurer’s Actions; Treasurer Asserts No Wrong-doing

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

(Editor’s note: A portion of the beginning of this report was first published in the September 18 edition of the Rockland County Times)

Photo credit: www.brickface.com
Photo credit: www.brickface.com

At a special meeting called on September 17, the Board of the Tallman Fire District heard the results of an audit it had commissioned after discovering numerous irregularities in the methods used by its previous treasurer, Roberta Doremus. Conducted by the Pinsky Law Group and deemed more a “review of financial policies and practices” than an actual audit, the investigation nonetheless led the reporters to conclude that “the methods used by the treasurer were insufficient to guard against fraud, impropriety or abuse.”

The report further states that “there may have been what appears to a neutral person to be a series of seemingly intentional acts by the treasurer to divert funds of the district to improper and/or personal purchases and expenditures.”

When delivering the report to the board, Bradley Pinsky, one of the attorneys who conducted the investigation, made sure to point out that without subpoena power or other legal authority, he cannot advise as to whether criminal conduct actually took place, and cautioned that further investigation was necessary. Several times during the meeting he urged Doremus to contact him or the Board with any further information she had in order to clear up questions or discrepancies.

Pinsky went on to describe the Fire Department records for the years 2011 and 2012 as badly incomplete. Many records of purchases were missing signed vouchers, invoices, receipts or cancelled checks. This made it difficult to ascertain with certainty whether a purchase was approved or proper, raising red flags. Pinsky later admitted that he never contacted Doremus to find out if other records existed, stating that he had relied on her representation that everything at the fire house office “was all that there was.”

Additionally, there were several instances where the treasurer made out a check to herself without an accompanying Board signed voucher. On one occasion she actually signed a check to herself which included an additional $100 over the amount authorized, with no explanation other than that she was “assisting in an audit.” The report also criticized the treasurer’s practice of having department mail and packages sent to her personal address as such a practice could lead to missing documents or even tampering.

Even more troubling were several expenditures deemed improper. For instance, according to the report, evidence established that the Fire District was paying the bill for the treasurer’s personal home Internet, although the Commissioners believed that they were approving Internet for the department. Additionally, although not an active member of the department, Doremus was nonetheless listed as a beneficiary of a department life insurance policy intended solely for the benefit of active members. The investigators also criticized Doremus for paying sales tax on purchases despite the department’s status as a tax-exempt entity, resulting in “an absolute waste of the fire district’s funds.”

Further, the lawyers could not find any proof that payroll reports were filed for 2011 and 2012. They did find proof, however, that Tallman District had been fined in those years for payroll violations. The report states that Doremus never relayed this information to the board and did not submit the fines for signature by the commissioners. Rather, she obtained the signature of a previous board chair, and presented the check to the vice-chair without explanation or back-up documentation.

Doremus says all can be explained

When contacted by the Rockland County Times, Doremus, a 54 year member of the department’s Ladies Auxillary, denied any wrong-doing. She stated that she would be able to clarify any confusion as to the purchases and that when she left office in March she boxed up every document in her possession and gave them to the board chairman. She doesn’t know why any vouchers or other documents would be missing now. She also noted that with the board’s approval she had been using the services of an outside party, “Professional Innovative Accounting Program,” for the reconciliation of all bank statements.

With regard to the question of the internet payments, Doremus stated that she worked primarily from home and had requested and received approval from the Board for a monthly reimbursement. She also claims that the Board did know about the payroll fine, and that eventually the state reimbursed the Fire Department later on. Doremus also pointed out that though she has served as treasurer for 23 years, she does not have any formal training in accounting. She states that she did take a “class” for the Office of Treasurer/Secretary given by the department.

At the meeting Pinsky noted that the previous boards under which the treasurer served were in their own way as much to blame for the waste and improprieties, as at that time policies as well as oversight were much more lax. Doremus pointed out that three current commissioners, David Lockyer, Mike Aguilar and Eugene Fox, were also on those previous boards.

The law firm has since advised the current board on how to improve its practices and policies, including strictly keeping checks, vouchers and detailed bills together and filed by date, designating check and invoice signatories, conducting an internal monthly audit of returned checks by commissioners who are not signatories, and keeping detailed monthly financial reports containing proper reconciliation reports and balance sheets.

At the conclusion of the special meeting, the board voted to “use any and all legal means to finish the investigation and arrive at a resolution.” Doremus told the Rockland County Times that to date no one from the board has approached her to discuss these issues, and she has not contacted them.

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