WEST SENECA, NY - A treasurer for the West Seneca Fire District #6 has plead guilty to stealing funds from the department.
An audit by the New York State Comptroller's office discovered nearly $55,000 in public money used for personal meals, travel expenses, jewelry and internet and cable service.
Based on the audit, the Erie County District Attorney's office charged district treasurer Diane Nowicki with petit larceny. She plead guilty in Orchard Park Town Court on Thursday.
"The fire district treasurer blatantly abused her position and misused taxpayer dollars. But her actions and other questionable spending occurred because district officials were lax in their oversight," said DiNapoli in a released statement. "It's unfortunate that my office continues to find public officials who abuse the trust of their communities. Clearly, this case demonstrates the importance of developing proper checks and balances to ensure public funds are safeguarded and only used for legitimate purposes. I want to thank District Attorney Sedita and his staff for their diligence and helping to ensure this individual was held responsible for her actions."
Auditors found the fire district paid more than $4,800 for internet, telephone and cable television services at the Nowicki's personal residence from January 2009 through April 2012, and that she paid herself $750.
Officials say that prior to the audit, the district board had acted against another individual who had allegedly used fire district funds inappropriately. That person had to repay more than $2,000 and resign his position.
Nowicki has repaid $1,635 so far.
The audit also discovered that district officials paid nearly $14,000 for food and beverage charges at local restaurants without recording details as to who was served, why the meal was necessary, or what district business was conducted; ignored the district's travel policy and used district credit cards to charge nearly $4,000 at restaurants while traveling to conventions and training events; paid $500 for a custom-made diamond and gold necklace as a gift to a former fire chief; charged $1,089 on the district credit card to pay for airline tickets for their spouses; and spent $1,647 for lodging at local hotels that were less than ten miles from district offices.
The district failed to claim more than $120,000 in grant money awarded to it by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This includes $94,000 for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant aimed at firefighter recruitment and retention.
The board has agreed to implement the recommendations made by the Comptroller's office to protect public funds.
You can read the full audit here, as well as the fire district's response. (http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/firedists/2013/westseneca.pdf)