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State Comptroller's audit finds 'lax oversight' by WROTB board regarding perks, timely reimbursement

By Mike Pettinella

The president and chief executive officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. this morning said that stronger policies and procedures have been put into place in light of audits by the New York State Comptroller’s Office that revealed the public benefit company failed in its oversight of perks distributed and in prompt reimbursement for personal use of an official vehicle.

The audit findings were released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who said WROT “needs to clean up its operations.”

“Revenues from the OTB are supposed to go to participating municipalities, not to give board members and employees generous perks and other benefits,” he stated in the report. “The board said they are acting on our recommendations and I urge them to continue to tighten oversight and eliminate questionable spending.”

WROTB President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek, speaking after the organization’s board meeting today, said new controls and record keeping policies have been made.

“We have issued a policy that is a very good policy,” he said. “We welcome the Comptroller’s input and we will continue to improve upon our protocols.”

Wojtaszek said the WROTB board has provided an answer to the Comptroller’s Office, which is included in the audit report.

According to the first audit, WROTB (the parent company of Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel) spent at least $121,000 on tickets to sporting events, concerts, food and alcohol for board members, employees and other individuals without the oversight required by state rules. A second audit released found that Wojtaszek did not reimburse the organization for his personal use of an official vehicle in a timely manner.

DiNapoli reported that both audits “found lax oversight of operations by the board of directors, a troubling tone at the top of the organization for establishing and following the rules, and poor documentation.”

He also urged WROTB to seek reimbursement for tickets and other expenses that were distributed improperly.

The first audit examined the corporation’s marketing and promotional operations from September 2017 through December 2019 which featured giving free tickets to Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans games and to area concerts.

While this is permitted by the state Gaming Commission, this practice also requires WROTB to “submit an annual marketing plan identifying who may receive promotions and keep information on who received the complimentary items.”

The audit states that the corporation’s board approved almost $1.3 million on leases for suites at sporting venues, concert tickets and food and beverages, but failed to keep accurate records of at least $121,000 worth of these perks given to board members, employees and others.

Specific mention was made of a hockey game on Nov. 23, 2018 when the board chairman (Richard Bianchi) received six tickets and the vice president of operations (Scott Kiedrowski) received nine tickets, and another hockey game on Dec. 29, 2018, when the board chairman received four tickets, and five tickets were given to another board member and five other tickets were recorded as given to “host.”

As a result, auditors recommended that WROTB do the following:

  • Develop and adopt a written policy and procedures for the distribution of tickets and who is eligible to get them.
  • Seek reimbursement for tickets and food and beverages if not appropriately given.
  • Define in the marketing plan what groups or categories of complimentary items, including tickets, will be given out as required by state regulations.
  • Develop a system to maintain a complete, detailed, and accurate record of tickets distributed.

The second audit, covering a period of four years to April 2020, found that Wojtaszek did not track his personal use of his official vehicle and keep mileage logs, as all employees were required to do. He also did not pay the annual fee of $260 paid by other employees.

He later reimbursed the OTB $3,484 after an internal auditor found that he was not following the OTB’s policy.

Key recommendations in this case are as follows:

  • Ensure all employees who are assigned take-home vehicles complete and file accurate weekly mileage logs.
  • Require employees to reimburse the OTB for personal use in a timely manner.

In response to the audits, Bianchi wrote two letters to the Comptroller’s Office, outlining plans of action.

Summarizing, he wrote that the WROTB board has implemented a new procedure to provide for better tracking of “charitable tickets,” with continued updates “in respect to ticket distribution” for the board’s review and adoption, and will conduct a review of the prior ticket distribution to see if any tickets were given “to a non-eligible person,” and, if so, will seek reimbursement.

Also, the annual marketing plan will be expanded to specify “groups and categories of eligible complimentary items, including tickets, and the basis for such distribution,” with all tickets to be logged into a “dual recording system to ensure accuracy and proper distribution.”

As far as reporting of the use of personal vehicles, Bianchi wrote that the board is reviewing its motor vehicle use policy to “include the elimination of take-home vehicles for assigned WROTB employees” but, in the meantime, “a procedure has been established to ensure that a supervisor or officer is assigned the responsibility to review the vehicle logs monthly to determine and collect any reimbursement from the assigned employee for personal use of the vehicle.”

He also reported to the Comptroller’s Office that Wojtaszek, in April 2019, reimbursed the company $3,484 for personal use of an assigned vehicle for the period of July 2016 through April 2019 and, after further review by an internal auditor, another $528 last month for vehicle use from June 2016 through January 2017.

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