Financial records for the Village of Corfu Court are off by nearly $30,000 according to an audit released today by the NYS Comptroller's Office.
It doesn't explicitly accuse anybody of misappropriating funds, but does say the matter has been referred to local law enforcement.
The court is run by elected Justice Robert Alexander, who has been on the bench for 22 years. For most of the time covered by the audit -- Nov. 1, 2009 through Sept. 12, 2011 -- Alexander's clerk was his daughter, Brandi Alexander.
The clerk is responsible for collecting and recording fines, fees and bail, and reporting adjudicated cases to the DMV and the state's Justice Court Fund.
The justice of a court, according to the audit, is responsible for checking and reconciling the clerk's records.
While the audit uses language that is careful not to accuse Brandi Alexander of misappropriation of funds, it does outline scenarios where funds intended for fines, fees and bail are unaccounted for, understated or missing.
The audit found cash records were short by $10,628, stating the shortage is due to the lack of proper internal controls over the court's financial activities.
Of the shortage, $8,819 was for cash collected but never deposited in the court's bank account. The balance of the shortage is due to accounting errors, according to the report.
"These court (monies) are unaccounted for because neither the Justice nor the Clerk performed monthly reconciliations of Court activities, and the Justice did not review Court financial records," reads the report.
There is allegedly $16,883 in fines and bail during the audit period that were not recorded in the cash book, though funds were deposited in the court's bank account.
Also, $2,210 in payments were recorded at amounts less than actually paid; $790 in credit card payments were greater than recorded in the cashbook.
The audit also reportedly found that fines of $3,770 on 11 tickets were disposed of in reports to the DMV, but no evidence of payment was recorded. And there was an additional $2,350 in irregularities in the recording of DMV fines.
When a ticket is paid, a report is supposed to go to the DMV and to the Justice Court Fund. Auditors said they found irregularities in this duel-reporting process.
"It is unusual to report tickets as disposed to the DMV without also reporting them on the JCF monthly report," auditors said. "There is a risk that these fines could have been paid in cash and not recorded, or deposited and not recorded."
A total of 67 cash, check and money order payments were recorded for amounts less than the amount actually paid by the defendants, according to the report, and only 38 of the actual plea documents could be located by auditors.
For 22 credit card payments, auditors located 14 plea sheets and on 10 sheets the amount of the fine noted was less than what the defendent actually paid.
Auditors were able to contact two individuals who were able to produce copies of sentencing letters used to notify defendants who plead guilty by mail of the sentence imposed. In both cases, the letter asked the defendants to pay a fine higher than what was recorded on the plea sheet.
"This test was necessarily limited because there were very few sentencing letters in Court records," auditors wrote. "However, given that this relatively simple scheme was used on at least two occasions, overstating fines in sentencing letters is one of the practices that could account for under-reported fine amounts in the cashbook."
When asked about the irregularities, Brandi Alexander reportedly told auditors, "that she performed her job too quickly and had made many errors."
Alexander began her full-time position March 10, 2008.
The audit says it's not unusual for a justice to hire a family member as clerk, but when a justice does hire a family member, he must seek the approval of the Unified Court System.
The audit states that Alexander did not receive permission to hire Brandi, and when permission was sought -- after the village board requested the audit -- the request was denied, at which time the board voted to remove Brandi from the clerk's position.
Typically, the board cannot hire or dismiss a court clerk without approval of the village justice, but once the UCS ruled that Brandi could not hold the position, the board had no choice but to terminate her employment.
While the court and its employees are an independent entity -- the village board has no control over its activities or its books -- the clerk's salary and benefits are picked up by the village.
Among the auditor's recommendations are that the village attempt to recover funds owed to the court by the justice.
Also, the auditors recommend that Justice Alexander seek to identify defendants who overpaid fines and issue them refunds on the overpaid amount.
The report also calls on the court to tighten up its financial controls and bookkeeping.
For the full report, click here.