Conflicts of interest and other questionable practices by the highway superintendent in the Town of Yorktown were identified in an audit report draft produced by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.
“We are concerned that the Highway Superintendent has not always acted appropriately and in the best interests of the Town’s citizens,” the audit’s executive summary said. “We identified actions of the Highway Superintendent in which we believe both his personal financial interests and public responsibilities conflict.”
The 32-page document describes the results of the auditor’s investigation of Highway Superintendent Eric DiBartolo’s work activities and computer use as well as the town’s purchasing practices from Jan. 1, 2007 through May 13, 2010.
From December 2007 to January 2010, DiBartolo served as the town’s director of labor operations and was responsible for purchasing for various departments: environmental conservation, central garage and building maintenance, parks and recreation as well as water and sewer.
The report describes how pornographic images were found on DiBartolo’s work computer as well as records of political and personal activities such as the buying and selling of auto parts.
The audit report cited DiBartolo’s relationship with Envirostar, a company owned by his late brother and his sister-in-law, as an area of conflict. The auditors deemed that “the Superintendent had an interest in the company” and that the company benefited from transactions with the town. An example that was given was the town’s purchase of an industrial sweeper and mixer and tires totaling $28,670 from Envirostar without proper board approval.
“The Superintendent should not sell goods to the Town as a sole proprietor without documenting the need and seeking Board approval prior to the sale,” the report stated.
DiBartolo has said he works for the company when he is off duty from the highway department. However the audit states that DiBartolo failed to reveal his relationship with the company on the town’s annual financial disclosure forms in 2007 and 2008.
“The Superintendent’s failure to disclose his interests created an environment susceptible to fraud and/or abuse,” according to the report.
One transaction the audit questioned was the town’s use of Envirostar in the handling of an environmental cleanup in February 2009. Hydro-Environmental Technologies Inc. was hired to remove and dispose of contaminated soil from water department property on Spillway Road in Shrub Oak. Hydro-Environmental Technologies hired Envirostar to perform the work and then-supervisor Don Peters authorized a check for $73,000 to be paid to Envirostar. The town board refused to approve the payment until an investigation was done.
“Without adequate internal controls that include the adoption and enforcement of a comprehensive procurement policy and procedures, the Board and Town officials cannot assure taxpayers that purchases of goods and services were made in the most prudent and economical manner without favoritism,” the report states.
The report also found fault with the comptroller and town clerk departments.
Multiple sources close to the investigation claim that Supervisor Susan Siegel instigated the investigation as a way of going after DiBartolo, with whom she has had a contentious relationship for years. Most recently DiBartolo filed a defamation lawsuit against Siegel and the town.
Siegel, who took office in January 2010, admitted to writing a letter to the Office of the Comptroller on November 10, 2009 after winning the election. “I am writing to formally request a Risk Assessment Audit of all town operations,” she stated in the letter. Siegel stated that the last known audit of the town was done in 1996. “I am interested in overall recommendations, with follow up on any weaknesses the audit identifies, as well as specific information on procedural controls.”
“It was never about going after an individual,” Siegel said. “I was walking into a new position and wanted a risk assessment.”
Siegel declined to discuss what was in the draft. “It could change. That was there findings we have a chance to present evidence to change some things. Do I think it will all change, no; but I think there are some things we can show that auditors to change portions of the report.
Since the initial draft the auditors have been having exit interviews with the town board and several employees, sources close to the situation said.
Siegel stated she scheduled the exit interviews for the board members and that she suggested Town Clerk Alice Roker and DiBartolo schedule their own interviews.
DiBartolo maintains he has not seen a copy of the report and that he has not been asked to have an interview.
Councilman Jim Martorano, who acknowledged he has been interviewed as part of the audit process, said he could not discuss the audit findings. He did recommend interested parties review the minutes of the March 9 meeting.
In those minutes it reads that Peters said, “DiBartolo received an order from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take immediate action to remediate the spill in February and was informed that the failure to do so could cost the town up to $35,000 a day in fines. A commence work order was signed to immediately protect the public and environment. As a result of the town’s immediate response to this emergency, the spill has been contained and the surrounding area and public have been protected.”
Further in the minutes Councilman Matthew Metz, a former prosecutor, described his investigation of the incident. “Everything Councilman Metz has seen so far indicates that the work was done appropriately and cost effectively,” the minutes read. Metz does recommend better communication between the board and DiBartolo.
Martorano said that after the oil clean up all the paperwork was sent to the District Attorney’s Office to see if any criminal actions had occurred and the DA’s office determined that there was not.
“This is not a new problem,” Martorano said. “We knew about it and we took care of it.” He also cited the new safeguards that have been put in place since January 2010.
The draft, which was supposed to be kept private, was given to several media outlets including The Northern Westchester Examiner. It was sent via email to designated town representatives. Former town officials, such as Peters, have not been provided access to the document by the state.
“I am mentioned in the audit and I am not allowed to look at,” said Peters, who is running once again for town supervisor. “I heard that the report said that the auditors tried to contact me. I never got a message from them.”
Currently the town has until June 30 to respond to the draft. Typically the comptroller’s office will only accept one response from a municipality. However if an audit report has findings about a separate elected official’s department, such as the town clerk or the highway superintendent, then the elected official that represents that office may also respond on his or her behalf.
A complete findings report, which will include the town’s response to the draft and any subsequent determinations by the comptroller’s office, will be released to the public 10 days after the town receives the final draft. Siegel does not expect it to come until fall.