Police report confirms that Town kept quiet employee resignation due to theft allegation

by beth on December 29, 2020

In November, I covered a Southborough resident’s is appeal of an “excessively redacted” response to a public records request. Thanks to a ruling by the state’s public records division this month, unredacted police reports and payment request records were recently released.

The police report confirms that in Spring 2019 a then-Recreation Department staff member was accused of using a Town credit card to make personal purchases. The report also indicates that the Town accepted a check for either full or partial repayment from the employee. Due to that action no criminal charges can be pursued.

Attorney Ginny Kremer has been seeking public records on the rumored incident on behalf of resident Jack Barron. In a December 17th letter, a state Records Supervisor ruled in Barron’s favor. The Southborough Police Department and Town Administrator’s office were ordered to respond to the request within 10 days. Documents were subsequently released to Kremer.

In November, Kremer had appealed the Town’s redaction of records, arguing that exemptions to public records law weren’t valid. Kremer argued the redactions:

made it impossible for Town residents to determine (1) how much money, in total was stolen or misappropriated; (2) whether the $800 that the former employee remitted to the town was a full reimbursement of the allegedly stolen funds; and (3) whether the employee was discharged for deliberate misconduct, or was simply asked to leave the towns employee with no further repercussions, leaving the employee eligible to complete claim unemployment benefits

The recent communications don’t answer all of his questions. The state’s determination letters didn’t address a prior request from Barron for unredacted minutes from Board of Selectmen Executive Sessions and some other internal communications. Barron has been seeking them to better understand the incident and how the Town handled it.

This fall, the Town’s attorney Antoine Fares defended heavily redacted minutes, police reports, and accounting records. The December 17th letter from a state Public Records Supervisor referred to documents related to the latter two. It informed Fares that he hadn’t sufficiently clarified how the situation justified exempting materials related to the alleged theft. 

Backed by the new determination, Kremer will be filing a revised request for Barron. They’ll seek unredacted BOS minutes and other documents related to the Recreation Department’s finances. 

Barron told me that he is still concerned about why the Town swept the incident under the rug. He asserted the public had a right to know about any malfeasance by Town employees and wonders what other details we’re still being kept in the dark about.

According to a witness statement in the police report, in April 2019 the Town Accountant discovered apparently inappropriate use of the Town credit card. She reached out to Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson. After the employee defended the purchases as made for work, Ferguson went through two years of statements. She examined purchases that didn’t coincide with program dates and assessed $844.88 worth. The former employee made out a check for that amount and resigned.

Previously Fares purportedly confirmed for a December 23rd article run in MWDN, The Telegram, and Wicked Local that the employee was fired:

The town’s attorney for the case, Antoine Fares of Norwood-based Norris, Murray & Peloquin LLC, confirmed that a Southborough employee was fired, but that he couldn’t respond to allegations made by Barron and Kremer.

“I can’t comment on any personnel matter,” he said. “Any(thing) related to a disciplinary matter, I can’t comment on.”

The same reporter covered the latest development on Monday evening:

A Recreation Department employee resigned in April 2019 after admitting to spending hundreds of town dollars on personal expenses, according to a police report only recently made public.

The report, written by Southborough police Detective Keith Nichols, outlines accusations that then-Recreation Department [Facilities and Program Coordinator] used a town Sam’s Club credit card to buy personal items from stores in Northborough, Hudson and Framingham between 2016 and 2019. . .

“According to (the town accountant’s) calculations, she estimates that [the employee] had spent approximately one thousand dollars ($1,000) in unauthorized purchases between May 2016 and April 2019,” Nichols wrote. . .

The town accountant reported the suspected theft to police on April 26, 2019, a week after [the employee] admitted to the theft, wrote a check for $845 and resigned. . .

According to the police report, Nichols spoke to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, where an assistant district attorney is credited with saying Southborough cannot bring criminal charges against [the employee], because the town already accepted partial restitution. . .

Barron said he is still waiting on answers, and thinks there is more to the story than theft by a single employee.

“We’ll have to chase them for that,” he said Monday.

As I reported in November, an Audit was solicited following the incident. The report highlights the failures in the Town’s process that allowed the inappropriate reimbursements to go through. Recommendations were made to avoid future incidents. The allegations all relate to incidents in Spring 2019 and prior, predating the current Recreation Director and program coordinator.

Barron is one of three residents who is currently suing the Town and the Board of Selectmen over an unrelated incident.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lack of Proper Internal Controls December 30, 2020 at 1:33 AM

OPEN LETTER TO MR. HEALEY and BOS:
What the heck?? At least two of you actually ran for your BOS seats on the premise of greater accountability and transparency. Mr. Healey: the town doesn’t want to give the appearance of doing something wrong through excessive redactions or the town did do something wrong? What about the “lack of internal controls” cited in the July 2019 outside audit report on the Recreation Department by Melanson Heath? (Beth, can you amend the above good article to give the link?). That sounds wrong!! Then redactions?? Why?? What is this nonsense all about? This is a public matter involving public employees allegedly stealing public money? Since when does an alleged embezzler have more rights than the taxpayers being stolen from and their right to even know?? Remember the Anti-Corruption Policies put before the town meeting floor? The town mistakenly listened to the three unwise men squawking that the town didn’t need the good active policies of other towns. They said nothing is wrong. Well, something is wrong!!

Why do residents have to go to the expense of an attorney to uncover and fix what is wrong and your job? Enormous thanks to these residents and their attorney for their persistence and hard work to uncover this ridiculous mismanagement. Proper public discussion and policies please! And kudos to the Town Accountant who spoke up with legitimate business concerns on the lack of controls and concerns over the Recreation Commission bypassing the taxpayers through use of building up and spending the revolving fund. Obviously that person has the guts, experience, and sensibility to speak up. Thank you Beth for the above article. If it weren’t for this article, the Town would be in the dark on this alleged cover up. So much for open government and Open Meeting Law. BTW, where are the new controls?? This audit report was done last year. This is bullshit.

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2 beth December 30, 2020 at 7:30 AM

The article links to the article with the information on the audit. But you can also find the audit here: http://www.mysouthborough.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Rec-Audit-Attachment-3-from-9.4.20-Town-Response-to-Attorney-Kremer-Public-Records-Request.pdf

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3 southsider December 30, 2020 at 8:22 AM

While it is certainly appropriate to have researched, uncovered and reported on this mis-use of a town credit card, let’s not lose sight of the amounts in question.
Taking $300 a year from town coffers for personal use is wrong. No doubt about it.
But let’s not get carried away with accusations of gross mis-management and rampant dishonesty.
How many of us have company purchased office supplies in our homes? or used a company car for personal business? or simply took paid time off from work to run errands? all are wrong..but all are also trivial ..until done in excess.
Apparently the controls in place finally worked… and that’s good.
Some might say that controls would be overly excessive, labor-intensive and even wasteful if they were so good to have detected the first $25 mis-use.

I hope the redactions were used in a good hearted but maybe mis-guided attempt to protect the reputation of a person who had spent years working for the Town. There were never charges filed and there were probably legitimate concerns over revealing too much.

I suspect this entire affair will linger much longer than it should.

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4 Lack of Proper Internal Controls December 30, 2020 at 9:40 AM

Bullshit. It’s not about $300. The actual dollar amounts are higher and unknown, only estimated. More importantly, the Auditors report carefully. There are multiple red flags. There is a concern over Recreation Department commissioners building up and use of the revolving fund to purchase capital items and bypass Town Meeting, the taxpayers. This is not just wrong, this merits forensic auditing by Melanson Heath. Who was buying what? And for how long? Per the report, these are the same individuals who changed the way invoices were approved and gave invoice approval authority to the persons who left or were fired! Why should this Department be operating differently with “no proper internal controls?”

There is a concern stated over lack of invoice accountability and approval authority. Then redactions. Fully redacted police report and Executive Session Minutes? News flash: THAT IS ILLEGAL. Against State Law. Hence, the State ordered the release of documents without redactions.

This is costly all right. How much was the bad legal advice? Resulting in an embarrassing reversal for this BOS. Who voted to approve this?

More importantly, the Audit Report references other areas of concern in ALL departments. Look carefully at who improperly minimizes the above and who properly addresses this mismanagement head on with proper public discussion and policies and procedures. The shocking takeaway is that the taxpayers had no idea what was going on while this department was mysteriously reorganized, with one position filled by a family member of a former BOS member. Both Kolenda and Rooney, past BOS members, got their kids jobs in Recreation. One of the replacement positions of the fired person had over 100 candidates. As the article above points out, the alleged embezzlements predated any replacements. However, by law, there should have been full disclosure and public discussion at the time. There has been no public discussion of remedies. Public discussion and new policies please. Look under the hood! Forensic audit time.

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5 southsider December 30, 2020 at 9:55 AM

Alas… as I expected… the overreactions continue… there is no hard evidence I’ve seen to indicate greater degree of dishonesty.

Now we’re suggesting deeper conspiarcies involving BOS members too…

Southender is right… let’s move on…or if we must continue this discussion, let’s be correct in our judgement of its scope.

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6 Southender December 30, 2020 at 9:45 AM

What was that song from the movie Frozen? “Let It Go”. It’s over, and it’s time to move on. And if Jack Barron wants to throw money away, I’ll send him my address.

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7 Lack of Internal Controls December 30, 2020 at 10:29 AM

Right on cue, the minimizers. Nothing to look at here!

For the rest of the taxpaying public who doesn’t like to see stolen public funds or “lack of internal controls,” the audit report will be read carefully.

Note, this has happened in other municipalities. Hit google. See the difference in discussion and proper policies and remedies. Doesn’t matter which city or town, most people are against embezzlement of their money and no disclosure. That will play out in the voting booth.

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8 beth December 30, 2020 at 12:19 PM

Maybe, maybe not.

I frequently see comments threatening/predicting voters will oust elected officials over their actions. Yet, ousting of an incumbent is pretty infrequent. New members are usually elected when an incumbent chooses not to run for re-election.

Since the blog began covering town elections in 2009, selectmen have only lost re-election bids twice. (Sal Giorlandino lost to John Rooney in 2010 and Bill Boland lost to Brian Shea in 2015.) No other officials in any position have lost a re-election bid in that time.

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9 Short term memory loss December 30, 2020 at 2:57 PM

Those who choose to downplay this must of already forgotten this small impropriety of the law and a loss to the people of Southborough of only four years ago.. How soon we forget.!
Even if it’s $25 dollars there should be line item accounting.
http://www.mysouthborough.com/2016/04/01/superintendent-announces-embezzled-funds-reimbursed-releases-crime-details/

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10 resident December 31, 2020 at 8:49 AM

The cover up that went with this is also incredible. Yet, every time somebody brings this up it is swept under the rug. This was almost half a MILLION dollars of OUR money. Nobody wants to buck the system. The Superintendent (worst in our history) was allowed to run amuck by the school committee who nicely sent her flowers to tell her it was ok and not her fault. It was her fault, she ignored many things and should have immediately been fired. There was no restitution that I ever heard of but we as taxpayers were told not to worry because the insurance covered it. Do you not wonder how much our premiums went up, which we pay for.
If your homeowners or car insurance went up you would be right on that though. . Taxpayer money is taxpayer money and we deserve the right to know what happened to it and who was responsible for not making the right moves to avoid these thefts. Stop putting on blinders and hold those who should be accountable, accountable instead of sweeping it under the rug.

With the recreation situation, the department has had personnel changes so there isn’t much to do but, who knew and didn’t act immediately? It sounds like the Town Accountant acted and questioned but who else was involved that didn’t? We may never know.

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11 n December 30, 2020 at 5:06 PM

Would someone share the link to the town’s audited financials statements and management letter?

Neither seem to have been included as part of information packages for BOS or Advisory meetings.

If someone would note which Advisory and BOS meetings these documents were reviewed that would also be helpful.

thank you

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12 southborough mom January 2, 2021 at 11:11 PM

I don’t understand how this could have happened. Each month I have reconcile my work credit card expenses – I have to keep the receipts for everything I spend. I don’t work for a big company or anything. It’s a pretty simple system that we use. Does the town not require employees to reconcile their credit cards each month?

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13 Al Hamilton January 4, 2021 at 10:59 AM

We should remember that the original, apparently inappropriate, redactions were done by an attorney working for us. His work product was apparently defective. We should pay for quality work that is consistent with the current standards and in this case we did not receive it.

The BOS should take substantial corrective action to prevent this embarrassment from occurring again. If we paid for this work we should demand a refund. We should reconsider our future relationship with the attorney in question. Further we should ask if there was any employee or official who directed the level of redaction and if so corrective action should be required.

Many on the BOS have given lip service to transparency now is the time to put their money where their mouths are. If the BOS fails to act in a public and transparent fashion then the voters need to apply corrective action at the Ballot Box.

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14 Lack of Proper Internal Controls January 5, 2021 at 7:21 AM

Al, totally agree with above. Importantly, the Melanson Heath Audit Report, containing its stunning revelations on “lack of proper internal controls” pertains not just to Recreation Department’s mismanagement and embezzlement, but concerns relating to all departments. The report was done in 2019. Where in the BOS minutes can the public find public discussion and corrective actions necessary to prevent theft of public funds and proper internal controls recommended in the report? None to be found? This is where this BOS needs to step up to the plate of professionalism immediately and put these important discussions on the next agenda. Bad legal advice or not, the question remains is this a disgraceful cover up still on top of improper redactions, by not publicly addressing the matter and implementing corrective policies and recommendations that are over a year old? The three unwise men squawked on Town Meeting floor a few years ago and stopped simple basic Anti-Corruption Policies, good active policies in place that serve other similar communities well. Kudos to the persons who ordered the Audit Report. However, it is a mess until corrective actions are taken and the matter in its entirety is publicly discussed and lessons learned. The taxpayers and the towns insurance company is going to look very unfavorably towards those in charge and Town Counsel for any further inaction or kicking under the rug.

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