Ringing The Alarm Bell On Monticello’s Fiscal Crisis : A State Forensic Audit, And Accountability Must Be Our Priorities

Monticello may be facing a fiscal crisis. The financial records of the municipality are in such a condition that, in my opinion, a full forensic audit by State authorities, of all departments, is required to determine if, and if so how much, money may be improperly accounted for. Based on concerns I had, even then, about improper accounting of taxpayers' money, I first made a formal request to the NYS Comptroller's Office for a forensic audit on July 11, 2012.

I have repeated this request, and am doing so again here in public and asking for the help of my constituents in amplifying this request so Albany will respond. A full investigation of all accounts at Monticello Village Hall is URGENTLY requested, to commence immediately, to follow on the heels of the recent indictment of the former Village Manager and former Deputy Mayor on multiple charges of corruption in office involving, among other things, misappropriation of funds.

I am making this emphatic request to carry out my due diligence as an elected official, and no other reason.

One instance that I raised recently, for example, concerned a line item in the general fund that had been described in-house by the Treasurer as "the savings account". When I inquired, saying this sounded suspiciously like an illegal "slush fund", she became irate, insisting that the monies set aside in "savings" were not supposed to be public knowledge. (The fund first came to my awareness when the now indicted former Village Manager made a remark about purchasing office furniture with it.)

This is not how I work. As an elected Trustee of the Village, I take seriously my responsibility to the public to be open and truthful.

After I requested an accounting, the Treasurer announced she was resigning two months down the road. She blamed her quitting on the Building Inspector's issuance of a warning to her to dispose of some old furniture stored on the porch of a house she owns in the Village.

When I released the Treasurer's resignation to the public, she went to the Village Police, having been advised to do so during a phone call between herself, the Mayor, and the attorney for the Board of Trustees, to seek the issuance an Appearance Ticket charging me with allegedly invading her privacy by not removing her already publicly available return address from the resignation letter. These bizarre actions raise more red flags!


In today’s economy, who would ever resign an $80,000 per year job, with full benefits and pension, because someone told them to get the garbage off their porch or because they were asked to explain their work? This doesn’t make sense. There is something seriously wrong here.


My understanding, confirmed on analysis by two Certified Public Accountants that I have consulted (the treasurer is not a CPA; she is a real estate broker), is that the account in question refers to $100,000.00 contingency fund, set aside in the Village's budget for as long as budgets have been administered in Monticello, for unforeseen disasters. This money has been carefully conserved by previous boards for many years, and, to the best of my knowledge until recently, was never used.

It has come to my attention that the Village's contingency account has been redirected for everyday operating expenses to cover excess costs we are now occurring. Yet the Board of Trustees never voted to adopt an adjusted budget authorizing this critical change as a policy matter. According to Village Code Section 45-7, the Manager’s duty is to inform the board of the financial condition of the Village. There was a breakdown in communication between the Treasurer and the former Manager (who now stands indicted for misappropriating funds other counts of felony corruption). What we have now in place is a retired prison guard and a real estate broker as acting Chief Executive Officer and Treasurer.

In addition, dedicated Water and Sewer funds were transferred to pay attorney fees to our out-of-county "special counsel" (we do not have a duly appointed Village Attorney), whose firm has now been paid nearly a quarter-million dollars over the last 12 months from Village coffers. The Treasurer herself has confirmed to me that she did this, reportedly (according to what she told me) at the instruction of one Trustee, T.C .Hutchins, who also stands indicted on multiple counts of felony corruption in office.

When these inter-fund transfers began, I contacted the NYS Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) for an opinion. The advice sent to the Village Manager at my request was that "fee money" like the Sanitation and Water and Sewer revenue accounts, could be borrowed for narrowly defined essential purposes, such as maintaining infrastructure, but must be repaid by the end of the fiscal year.

That deadline passed on July 31, 2012 and to date none of the money has been returned. The balance in the Sanitation fund has been reduced from $1,500,000.00 one year ago to the present balance of $175,000.00 for unpermitted purposes. Where will the general fund ever get $1,500,000.00 to pay back the Sanitation fund?

Yet another example pertains to the long-term lease of a truck for the Water and Sewer Department executed, with no authorization, by the Village Manager. Contrary to his action, the Manager was in fact directed by unanimous resolution of the Board of Trustees to purchase the said truck outright for $39,000.00 cash (at that time there was more than $1,000,000.00 in the Sanitation Fund). Instead, without lawful authority, the Manager secretly signed a six-year 9% per-annum lease without informing the Board of Trustees.

Another example that I cited to the Treasurer recently was what appears to be a sizable shortfall of funds in the Parks and Recreation Department. Money is taken in, but due to a lack of internal accounting controls, the whereabouts of these funds are unclear to me or to finance professionals I have consulted who have reviewed available records. Where are all the funds that have been collected from events held at the Ted Stroebele Neighborhood Facility?

It appears crimes may have occurred at Village Hall involving misappropriation of funds (look at the situation, for example, involving the former Village Manager and a former Deputy Mayor). The Board of Trustees never authorized eliminating the contingency fund and spending it on general purposes. Additionally, some budget transfers from "fee money" accounts were never approved by the board, and the Treasurer appears to have failed to diligently follow prescribed Village policies and procedures and her job responsibilities outlined in Village Law §4-408. Some accounts that should contain money are empty.

These are alarming statements, but I make them in good faith, with no malice toward anyone. As a Trustee, it is my duty under the law and my own internal moral compass, to sound the alarm and report to my constituents that the financial condition of the Village is bleak.

I have previously called upon the NYS Comptroller's Office to come to Monticello, at the earliest possible date, and vigorously investigate, in the form of a thorough forensic audit, of every department and every fund, and to prosecute improprieties and recommend corrective steps.

I have specific concerns to enumerate when State officials arrive to conduct that investigation with the intent of putting the Village back into orderly condition in which it was left by the former Treasurer when she retired two years ago.

Villagers need to be aware that taxes are going to go up next year exponentially. I am ringing the bell now. Mark it on your calendar that on 12/12/12 a warning and call to action were issued by me: Citizens beware!

Your help is needed! Please contact our State representatives and law-enforcement authorities by phone and in writing demanding an immediate forensic audit, full investigation, and corrective action to stop the hemorrhaging. You will see the results next year.

Now Is Not The Time To Change The Form Of Government

Due to the above concerns, I am announcing that I do not now intend to support the referendum that I have proposed to abandon the Village Manager form of government at this time, in light of the present environment of corruption and mismanagement. The appropriate time is in the future, but not now.

Presently we must focus on resolving serious problems in the Village's finances, cleaning up the books and records, determining if and how much money is missing (such as from the Recreation Department) and where it went; and placing someone at the helm who is qualified to properly oversee the fiscal management of the Village with nearly an $11,000,000.00 annual budget.

We have a retired prison guard as an Acting Village Manager with insufficient municipal experience to make necessary course reforms. We have a real estate broker as Treasurer who never submitted a resume to the full Board of Trustees, possibly because she was a Mayor’s appointment. The most reliable and credible record of the proceedings of meetings of the Board of Trustees is the archive of audio files on carmenrue.com, because the minutes are so sketchy.

Our Mayor, with the strengths and human weaknesses he has, was not elected by the voters of Monticello to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the Village. I continue to support a referendum abolishing the Manager form of government coinciding with the next Mayoral election in 2016, not now.

First, we have more pressing financial matters to resolve, and the Village needs professional help and close monitoring by State authorities. Citizen participation and support is urgently requested. I am only one vote on the five-member board which governs Monticello. Please help me save your Village and mine.

Examining Sources: It Pays To Check Citations, Some Lawyers Don't 'Always Take The High Road'

Chief Judge Lawrence H. CookeIf odd sounds were heard on the evening of Tuesday, September 18th coming from the vicinity of Rock Ridge Road, five blocks east of Village Hall, they may have been the sound of the Honorable Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke turning over in his grave.

That night, an attorney from Nyack who consults with the Village of Monticello Board of Trustees in the absence of a duly appointed corporation counsel for the Village, attempted to twist the words of the late esteemed Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals for his own purposes, creating a meaning other than the one intended by the Chief Judge.

Wisely, the board took no action on the criminal indemnification proposal after the public hearing [full audio]. The best course would be to drop the matter and not bring it back before the board.

Pushing for a Local Law authorizing interest-free loans to public officers and employees of the Village of Monticello who are or who may in the future be charged with crimes (to be "reimbursed" to the Village after a criminal conviction), Nyack lawyer Dennis Lynch inappropriately cited the case of Corning v. Laurel Hollow (48 N.Y. 2d 348 [1979]), which was decided by the late Chief Judge Cooke; as well as NYS Comptroller's Opinion 2000-1.

Although Mr. Lynch was asked roughly a week before the meeting to answer certain "Questions of Law" put to him in an e-mail, he chose not to exercise his duty to properly advise the Board of Trustees. Instead, he waited until a public hearing was in progress to rattle off the two citations to support his bald-faced false assertion that a Local Law drafted by him to defend Village Manager John LiGreci and others who have been subpoenaed in connection with a pending Grand Jury investigation complies with New York State law.

In fact, the contrary is true.

Chief Judge Cooke, writing on behalf of the majority of the highest court in New York State, was faced with a claim by former village officials for reimbursement of costs and legal fees incurred after concluding a successful defense to a civil rights action brought against them in their official capacities.

Though Mr. Lynch cited it in support of adoption of his proposal of interest-free loans to pay legal bills of Village officials accused of crimes, this case is not relevant to the measure proposed by Mr. Lynch, in which he rationalizes advance payment of personal legal fees for officials charged even with criminal misconduct.

Our esteemed Monticello native, former Chief Judge Cooke, included these words in his decision, which Mr. Lynch conveniently failed to note in his two-minute report to the board on this matter:

"One of the risks traditionally associated with the assumption of public office is that of defending oneself against charges of misconduct at one's own expense (Matter of Chapman v City of New York, 168 N.Y. 80, 85-86). The public owes no duty to defend or even aid in the defense of such a charge. As was said in Matter of Chapman (supra, at p 86): 'Whoever lives in a country governed by law assumes the risk of having to defend himself without aid from the public, against even unjust attempts to enforce the law, the same as he assumes the burden of taxation' * * * (see, also, Leo v Barnett, supra; Buckley v City of New York, 289 N.Y. 742, affg 264 App Div 116; Matter of Guarino v Anderson, supra; Matter of Kilroe v Craig, 238 N.Y. 628, affg 208 App Div 93; 17 Opns St Comp, 1961, p 125; 12 Opns St Comp, 1956, p 479)."

Chief Judge Cooke carefully emphasized that Corning vs. Laurel Hollow pertained to civil matters only, not criminal defense:

"Insofar as here relevant, section 18 generally requires a village which has adopted the provisions of that section to provide for the defense of its officers and employees in any "civil action or proceeding" arising out of any alleged act or omission which occurred or allegedly occurred while the officer or employee was acting within the scope of his or her public employment or duties (Public Officers Law, §18[2][a])."

Mr. Lynch may not appreciate the place of honor which Chief Judge Cooke holds in the memories of the people of Monticello who knew him.

With regard to Comptroller's Opinion 2000-1, Mr. Lynch was equally negligent with his mis-advice to the Board of Trustees. A careful reading reveals that the Opinion referred to a law modeled after Section 19 of the NYS Public Officers Law (which does indemnify State employees against criminal charges in some limited instances, but allowing reimbursement only after the accused official has been aquitted - not turned upside-down, as Mr. Lynch's proposal would have it).

The Opinion cited by Mr. Lynch, the meaning of which he yet again stood on its head (evidently assuming no one one the board would dare to question his expertise as a high priest of jurisprudence), states:

"The provisions of section 18, however, do not authorize a municipality to provide a defense in a criminal proceeding (see Zimmer, supra; 1986 Atty Gen [Inf] 6; cf. Wassef v State, 98 Misc 2d 505, 414 NYS2d 262 [analogous provisions of Public Officers Law, §17 do not require State to provide defense in a criminal matters]; compare Public Officers Law, §19, relative to defense and indemnification of State officers and employees in criminal proceedings). To the extent that an investigation by a district attorney into the potential commission of a crime may be considered either an 'action' or a 'proceeding' (compare General Construction Law, §§11-a, 16-a, 18-a; CPLR, 105[b], [d]; Criminal Procedure Law,§1.20[16], [18]; People v Van Der Beek, 18 AD2d 205, 238 NYS2d 676), it must usually be considered criminal in nature (see Criminal Procedure Law, §1.20[18], defining 'criminal proceeding' in part as 'any proceeding which occurs in a criminal court and involves a criminal investigation'). Similarly, a grand jury proceeding is generally regarded as a criminal proceeding (see People v Van Der Beek, supra; People ex rel Nuccio v Eighth Dist. Prison Warden of City of New York, 182 Misc 654, 45 NYS 2d 230; but see Hunt v Hamilton County, 235 AD2d 758, 652 NYS2d 402 [grand jury proceeding held to be civil action or proceeding within meaning of Public Officers Law, §18 when district attorney admitted no intention of pursuing criminal charges]). Accordingly, it is our opinion that the village in this instance may not pay the police officers' legal expenses pursuant to the provisions of section 18 of the Public Officers Law."

The Local Law Mr. Lynch proposes depends on Section 18 of the Public Officers Law. He evidently prefers to rely on Section 18 (which the very authorities he cites confirm do not apply to criminal defense) because that section allows indemnification (against civil suits) in advance; while Section 19 (which applies to criminal defense) only permits repayment to a public officer after an acquittal or dismissal.

During the September 18th public hearing, attorney and recently retired Acting Village Justice Leo Glass offered the following public comment on the proposed law:

"Mr. Lynch has provided us with certain legal citations and legal authorities which I am not prepared to answer to at this time because I was not aware of what he was going to bring up. I think this is an ill-conceived idea. The Village, I am sure, has liability insurance covering the actions of certain employees, including the board. And I think for this Village, with its high tax burden, to now assume the responsibility for legal fees for anybody and everybody who commits any crime of any sort is absolutely absurd. It is beyond the realm of probability that we should pass this, and I would ask that the matter be adjourned until such time as I have an opportunity to respond to Mr. Lynch's legal citations because, just as you know, every time somebody cites a law in their favor, there is a law cited against them."

The taxpayers of Monticello will be grateful to Judge Glass for any professional legal analysis, opinion, or other services that he is able and willing to offer in response to Mr. Lynch's "ill-conceived idea".

Interest-Free Loans To Village Employees For Criminal Defense Lawyer Fees Get No Support

At tonight's public hearing, no one spoke in favor of the local law proposed by Nyack attorney Dennis Lynch, and a broad spectrum of members of the public, and officials, spoke against it. After the hearing, no one on the board moved for its passage.

Click here for full audio of the board meeting.

Proposed Local Law Gives Free Loans To Village Employees For Criminal Defense Costs

Taxpayers who object to public money being advanced to defend public employees and officials charged with crimes should attend the September 18th public hearing at 7:00 PM at Monticello Village Hall.

The obligation of each member of the Board of Trustees is to look out for and protect the best interests of the Village of Monticello as a whole, not for our own personal welfare. A proposed local law places any member of the Board of Trustees who might votes in favor in jeopardy of personal liability for theft and malfeasance.

Rockland County consulting attorney Dennis Lynch, who is paid by the Village of Monticello for advice

The board voted 4 to 1 (Carmen Rue dissented) to hold the September 18th public hearing.

The public is invited to speak.

Lawyer Dennis Lynch of South Nyack (pictured at right), who drafted the proposed law and whose firm would substantially benefit from its passage, is expected to push Trustees to vote for its immediate approval the same night.

Presently, a Grand Jury at the Lawrence H. Cooke Sullivan County Court House is investigating if one or more Monticello officials, such as Village Manager John LiGreci and/or others, may be guilty of felonies while acting in their official capacities.

John J. LiGreci, Sullivan County Democrat photo

As of now, no Village officials are charged with any felonies, though several have been subpoenaed.

Lynch's proposed law would cover defense against crimes of all degree (both felonies and misdemeanors), regardless of the crime's nature, if the employee pleads Not Guilty and claims the offense was part of his or her official duties.

If officials are charged by the present Grand Jury or for any other crimes in the future, unless the law proposed by Mr. Lynch is stopped, the taxpayers of Monticello would pay legal fees to defend them.

Only if accused employee(s) are found guilty, under Mr. Lynch's proposal, would they be expected to "reimburse" the Village of Monticello for legal defense fees already paid to Feerick Lynch and MacCartney PLLC and other other lawyers benefitting from the local law.

Precisely how the Village could expect to collect such a debt from a former employee who would then be a convicted criminal is not addressed by Mr. Lynch.

In my opinion, an act designed to benefit one or more board members or their friends at Village Hall, giving interest-free loans in the form of advance payments prior to a finding of Not Guilty or dismissal is theft by those board members who pass this impermissible local law.

I would expect a restraining order prohibiting advance payment of criminal defense fees to be issued if the measure is passed on or after September 18th, and later challenged in court. Any Monticello taxpayer would have legal standing to file suit to stop the abuse of power and misuse of public money.

This law gives the false appearance of authorizing what amounts to Misappropriation of Public Funds. I believe that to pass such a law would constitute Malfeasance in Office and could be grounds for removal of an elected official by the Attorney General.

Despite the bad legal advice emanating from a high-priced Rockland County lawyer, Trustees should beware of the potential legal consequences that could be brought to bear upon them personally by appropriating public funds to benefit themselves or their friends.

Take, for example, the historical case of a Village employee convicted of stealing money from the Village Court in the early 1990s. If this law were in effect at the time of her arrest, once she was eventually convicted, the Village would have had to sue her in order to be “reimbursed” for legal defense fees already paid. It is not hard to imagine the difficulty the Village would encounter in collecting “reimbursement” by convicted criminals. (I am not talking about anyone presently charged, but about all the hypothetical situations that could arise in the future if and when Village officials or employees are ever charged with a crime committed during the performance of their duties.)

In some instances, the former official or employee, having been convicted, could be imprisoned – or file for bankruptcy. How would we collect then?

Mr. Lynch remains silent on this question.

When civil lawsuits are filed against the Village, legal defense fees have for many years been covered by our existing liability insurance policy. It excludes defense against criminal charges.

There is no money in the Village's budget to pay unlimited sums for the defense of officials who are now or who may in the future be charged with criminal actions in office.

As an elected Village Trustee, on Tuesday, September 11th, I e-mailed Mr. Lynch with the subject, "QUESTIONS OF LAW - PLEASE RESPOND". To date, he has failed to reply.

Here is my unanswered e-mail to the Village's consulting attorney who is pushing passage of this measure:

Dennis,

Please explain by what legal authority the Board of Trustees may lawfully apply Article 2, Section 18 of Public Officers Law (which is the basis for the local law you have proposed) to pay attorney fees in CRIMINAL defending against criminal charges.

Article 2, Section 19 of the that law provides for reimbursement of State employees who have been charged with criminal offenses by authorizing REIMBURSEMENT TO THE EMPLOYEE after being found Not Guilty or the charges are dismissed.

I could support policy or law by the Village of Monticello indemnifying Village employees who have been charged with crimes during the commission of their official duties in this manner, by means of reimbursing the officer or employee of the Village AFTER a disposition favorable to the defendant. In my view, this is entirely reasonable and consistent with New York State law.

The scope of this Section 18 is limited only to CIVIL proceedings, not CRIMINAL, as stated in this sub-section:

Article 2, Section 18 (3) (a): "Upon compliance by the employee with the provisions of subdivision five of this section, the public entity shall provide for the defense of the employee in any civil action or proceeding, state or federal, arising out of any alleged act or omission which occurred or allegedly occurred while the employee was acting within the scope of his public employment or duties. This duty to provide for a defense shall not arise where such civil action or proceeding is brought by or at the behest of the public entity employing such employee."

If you will present a law based on the language and conditions of Section 19 (relative to criminal proceedings) rather than Section 18, I believe I could support such a measure.

Anyone who compares Section 18 to Section 19 of the Public Officers Law should readily see the difference between the two, and will understand that the point I am making is [not] personal. These two sections of law clearly distinguish between indemnification of employees and officers in civil lawsuits vs. defending against criminal charges.

Loaning money to employees or officers of the Village, by appropriating public funds to pay their legal defense bills in the hopes the officer or employee will not be convicted of any crimes, and hoping that they will then "reimburse" the Village [if they are], does not appear to me to be a lawful act. As I have said, it appears to me to be misappropriation of funds, malfeasance in office, and quite simply theft.

I also see no way to assure that the loan will ever be repaid if the person is convicted. If such an employee has declared bankruptcy, has no assets, or is incarcerated, how would the Village go about obtaining the money we are owed?

In order for the Board of Trustees [to] consider your proposed Local Law in an informed manner, please advise us what legal recourse we would have to assure "reimbursement" when an employee is convicted, and also provide the legal authority and precedents for adopting a Local Law of this nature. Thank you.

I respectfully ask Monticello voters, taxpayers, and New York State authorities interested in how the rule of law applies to the Village of Monticello to demonstrate that interest on September 18th and by following up with and supporting any necessary and appropriate action to stop this misuse of public money.

Come to MONTICELLO DAY on August 5th!

Please take notice that all "Broadway Craft & Farm Fest" events previously scheduled by the Board of Trustees to be held between July and September have been cancelled by the Village Manager. Vendors who were signed up for these events should immediately contact Village Manager John LiGreci at (845) 794-6130, ext. for a full refund.

As an alternative, I am pleased to recommend bringing your family, friends, and vendor tables to MONTICELLO DAY on Sunday, August 5th. For information on this event, call Les Kristt at (845) 794-6639.

The latest Monticello Day announcement reads:

MONTICELLO DAY was born out of a cherished respect for our history combined with a strong commitment to the future of our community.

MONTICELLO DAY on Sunday August 5 will be a fabulous wholesome family Event with something for absolutely everyone.

The festivities will start at 12noon right after the Monticello Rotary Monster race winds down.

Broadway will be closed and have on it a large hook and ladder fire truck with a giant American Flag. Also on Broadway … a Mazerati, a Farari, The Steelhorse race team from Bethel Speedway, an ambulance, a school bus, large oil trucks, fancy 18-wheeler cabs, back hoes, Harleys, a few antique cars, fancy convertibles, the DARE Corvette and more.

We will have food vendors, merchandise vendors and non-profit information vendors on Rotary Corner. We will have Boxing demos, martial art demos, an animal clinic, gymnastics, Zumba and walking demos on the Court House lawn … with a band. We will also have Tom Rue and John Conway our Village and County Historians to speak and answer questions.

Monticello is coming together to uplift everyone’s spirits … join us August 5 … MONTICELLO DAY … we promise you a whole lot of great family fun.

Download 2012-2013 Village of Monticello Budget

The 2012-2013 Village of Monticello budget is available for download here. Included in this zip file are the budget summary, general fund, sanitation fund, and water/sewer fund.

With the hard work of the Board of Trustees and Treasurer, there is a 1.8% tax increase, which follows zero percent increase last year.

My Opinion Of An Attorney's Attacks On The Monticello Police Department

MEMORANDUM

July 8, 2012

Mayor and Board of Trustees
The Village of Monticello
Village Hall, 2 Pleasant Street
Monticello, New York 12701

To Whom It May Concern:

This memo summarizes why I said I was not prepared to vote in favor of a Resolution prepared by the Nyack law firm of Feerick, Lynch & MacCartney at a regular meeting of the Board of Trustees on July 5, 2012.

It was irrelevant to my decision that night whether anyone was guilty or not of any pending charges, as all are innocent before the law until proven otherwise. My hope is that the Mayor and all others involved will receive fair and competent treatment and legal representation during upcoming legal processes.

July Fourth Broadway Parade

As part of a recent series of major special events on Broadway and elsewhere in our community, the Village of Monticello is pleased to announce a 4th of July parade. Click the image below to download details an an application to participate with a float or as vendor.

Graphics by Helen Budrock

Monticello Antique Car Show, August 12th

Graphics by Helen Budrock

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