The county has suspended STOP-DWI funding for the Village of Corfu Police Department, and the issue made for a contentious village board meeting Monday night.
A village board member asked for disciplinary action against the police chief One police officer blamed the village board for dragging his name through the mud. And the mayor blamed Board Member Ralph Peterson (inset photo) for costing the village $3,000 in funding.
Peterson claims he only went to county officials to ask questions about how STOP-DWI vouchers should be processed. He said he didn't ask for a criminal investigation.
But after Peterson raised the issue, a State Police investigator opened a fraud investigation, which included visiting the home of at least one part-time village police officer.
The investigation concluded with no charges filed.
"There was no evidence of malfeasance," said village Attorney Mark Boylan.
Mayor Todd Skeet characterized the mishandled paperwork as a mistake, a misunderstanding between the village and the STOP-DWI committee that approves the vouchers.
"The STOP-DWI panel didn’t seem to understand the Corfu Police Department," Skeet said. "They didn't understand how it worked until this came along."
In a letter to the village, Frank Ciaccia, assistant county manager and the STOP-DWI coordinator, informed the village that recently submitted vouchers wouldn't be paid and 2012 funding for the village was suspended. The letter also states:
"Unlike the other police agencies with full-time officers, I believe that the Corfu Police Department is a unique operation that doesn't lend itself to easily comply in a verifiable manner with the requirements of the STOP-DWI program."
Funds for the STOP-DWI program come from DWI fines paid and are distributed to departments to help pay for equipment that can be used in apprehending suspected drunken drivers, such as radar units and license plate readers.
Agencies submit vouchers and time cards indicating times officers spent on road patrol with a specific intent of looking for drunken drivers.
The allegation is that the village submitted vouchers for times when officers were on general patrol, not specifically DWI patrol.
Skeet said the village completed the paperwork exactly as Ciaccia trained officials to do several years ago.
Officer Gene Nati spoke up at the meeting and complained that the whole village is gossiping about recent allegations of corruption in the village. And with State Troopers showing up at his door on a supposed criminal investigation, he feels like he's getting his reputation soiled when he didn't do anything wrong.
"My neighbors are talking about how the Corfu court is corrupt, the Corfu Fire Department is corrupt and the Corfu Police Department is corrupt," Nati said. "I'm not going to have my name dragged through mud for any wrongdoing for anything anybody else is doing.
"This is a part-time job," added Nati, who is also an Erie County Sheriff's deputy. "I don't need the money. I do it so I get a little extra money and buy a few cigars.
"I come here write a few tickets and generate some revenue for the village, but I and the other officers don't need our names dragged through the mud. It's the Village of Corfu, and you guys can't even get along at your own meetings."
Peterson opened the meeting by reading from a lengthy statement expressing his doubts that the problems with the STOP-DWI program paperwork were just an oversight. Peterson said that Chief James Meier, a 20-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, should already know how to complete the paperwork.
At the end of his statement, Peterson made a motion for "some sort of disciplinary action" against Meier.
Attorney Boylan told Peterson he couldn't make such a sweeping motion, and then explained that because of the finding of the State Police investigator and the lack of evidence of any intentional wrongdoing, there was no basis to discipline anybody.
"My personal feeling is that I believe that Ralph Peterson is the cause of the village losing $3,000 in funding," Mayor Skeet said. "He didn't ever come to the board once, never once saying there is a problem with the STOP-DWI program. Instead, he went straight to Batavia and got Frank Ciaccia all boiled up over it."
After the meeting, Peterson said he still isn't satisified that there was no wrongdoing in how the funds were handled. He said the reason he didn't come to the board first is that, in the past, issues he's raised with the board haven't been taken seriously.
Skeet said Peterson started pursuing the STOP-DWI issue only after the village board asked state auditors to look into potential problems with the village court.
Officials expected Village Justice Robert Alexander to go to Monday's meeting and address the recent NYS audit report on alleged missing funds in his court, but Peterson informed the board at the onset that Alexander was sick and unable to attend.
CLARIFICATION: Chief Meier said neither he nor his officers prepare the STOP-DWI vouchers. They are completed by the village clerk. There were no errors in the paperwork, but rather a "procedural problem" over how patrols were designated.