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Corfu Fire District

Corfu FD treasurer responds to report on state audit

By Howard B. Owens

Statement from Bruce Fauth, outgoing treasurer of the Corfu Fire Department:

It is very unfortunate that there are certain people in town that because of their own actions find it necessary to try to tear down all the good that your fire dept. has done for the people they protect. The latest is the unfair reporting on the recent audit of the fire dept. 

The first statement of the results of the audit reads; “We found that the Trustees provide adequate oversight of the Department’s financial activities and the Treasurer maintained suitable records to account for the financial activity."

The auditor stated verbally to us that we are doing a very good job with our funds. Further, the state will always find ways to better the controls of the finances. The claims not included on the lists approved by the trustees were items brought up at meetings and were indeed voted on and approved by the membership. Some bills were paid that didn’t have supporting statements attached but I want you to know that they were all legitimate fire dept. approved expenditures backed by our recorded minutes.

I feel we had a very good audit report, but it’s too bad that certain people have an axe to grind, again because of their own actions. They find it necessary to try and destroy a vital asset of the community and I urge citizens to not put up with this.   

Previously: State audit nicks Corfu Fire Department for undocumented expenditures

State audit nicks Corfu Fire Department for undocumented expenditures

By Howard B. Owens

Now it's the Corfu Fire Department's turn for a little financial scrutiny.

In August, the NYS Comptroller's Office released a report on the Corfu Fire District that eventually led to the one-year suspension of two department members over alleged irregularities involving district credit cards.

This week the comptroller's office released audit finding on the fire department (the district and department are intertwined, but separate agencies) and while declaring there were no "material discrepancies," the audit states there are at least $7,000 in insufficiently documented expenses over a 20 month period.

Auditors said the checked 115 paid claims totaling $30,398 from January 2010 through August 2011 and 26 payments totaling $4,779 were not supported by any documentation. Additionally, 14 claims totaling $3,096 were not included on the list of approved bills prepared by the trustees.

"As a result, Trustees were unable to verify that these payments were for legitimate Department purposes and that the correct amounts were approved for payment," auditors said.

The audit also found that the department's treasurer did not reconcile the bank account in 2010, and though the account was reconciled monthly in 2011, the trustees did not review and approve the reconciliations.

The department meets Jan. 9 and will likely discuss the audit.

The department was first incorporated in 1882 as “Rescue Hook & Ladder Co. #1.” It currently has 35 members and an annual budget of $20,600.

Department revenue is generated through various fundraisers and donations. 

The fire district, which helps fund firefighting in Corfu, is taxpayer supported.


Corfu Fire District commissioner objects to media reports that he was 'disciplined'

By Howard B. Owens

Bob Ammon wants his name cleared.

The longtime Corfu Fire District board member objected Tuesday night to media reports a month ago that he was disciplined by his fellow commissioners.

"I think my name was really disgraced and it really sucks," Ammon said. "I wanted to stay in my house and hide but I’m not because I did nothing wrong."

The fire district's attorney, Mark Boylan, said it was not the intention of the commissioners to "discipline" Ammon when they voted to seek his resignation from the board Nov. 16.

Commissioner Linda Tucker read the minutes from the previous meeting and the word "discipline" was not used in the resolution asking Ammon to resign, nor was it used in the section calling for the suspension from the fire department of Jeff Ammon and Shari Salim.

Jeff Ammon and Shari Salim are accused of inappropriately using district credit cards for personal purchases. The money was repaid to the district, though some question remains about late fees accumulated related to the charges.

The use of the cards was first publicly addressed in a NYC comptroller's report and then further researched by a fire district ethics committee.

Both the recommendation that Jeff Ammon and Shari Salim be suspended and the request for Bob Ammon to resign came from the committee.

Tuesday, Bob Ammon said he won't resign.

"I've lived in this community my whole life," Ammon said. "I thought many of you were my friends at one time. I wish I could get this back to being sensible again and move on."

Following the Nov. 16 meeting, both The Batavian and the Batavia Daily News reported that Bob Ammon, Jeff Ammon and Shari Salim were "disciplined" by the commissioners.

Boylan told Ammon that nobody with the district told either publication Ammon was being disciplined. It was, he said, "a misunderstanding" of the board's action.

The ethic committee's report did mention Bob Ammon in connection with one use of a district credit card where there were no receipts for the purchase. It was a charge at Dick's Sporting Goods. Ammon said he purchased equipment, with board authorization, for the fire department's exercise room.

Tuesday's meeting was often emotional with years-old issues being argued and some tears from Sandy Ammon, whose Bob's wife and the mother of Jeff and Shari.

"We've had three phone calls in the last month from other departments asking us to join," Sandy said. "The other departments are sticking behind them (Jeff and Shari). Go to these other departments and see what they're saying. We've been getting phone calls and my son and daughter have been getting phone calls.

"Most of you have had a grudge against the Ammon family for years," Sandy later added, "and now they’re out of the fire department."

Bob Ammon said the turn of events have been painful for his son, a former chief and former firefighter of the year.

When Jeff took his lights off his car, there were some tears, Ammon said.

"He told me, 'Dad, I did wrong, but I didn't do nothing to those people.'"

One fact related to the credit cards not previously reported and mentioned by Sandy, is that when the district applied for the credit cards, the district used Jeff's and Shari's credit history to get approval for the cards.

Boylan told Bob Ammon that pending a final CPA audit, the case is pretty much over and nothing has been referred to the District Attorney's Office nor the Sheriff's Office for a possible criminal investigation. There is no criminal investigation, he said.

Before adjourning, the board voted 4-0 (Ammon recused himself) to reduce Shari's suspension from the department from two years to one year. Under NYS law, the board doesn't have authority to suspended somebody for more than one year.

Also on Tuesday, district voters elected a new commissioner to a five-year term.  Bruce Fauth, the only name on the ballot, received 36 votes. Jeff Ammon received 14 votes as a write-in candidate.

Corfu Fire District trustees vote to discipline three members for alleged misuse of credit cards

By Howard B. Owens

In a 3-0 vote Wednesday night, the Corfu Fire District Board of Trustees approved a resolution disciplining three people for alleged ethical violations and misappropriation of funds.

The vote came following a closed session in which the trustees met with members of an ethics review panel that looked into accusations that the district's treasurer, a former fire chief and a sitting trustee allegedly misused district credit cards and kept incomplete records.

The panel was appointed in September after a NYS comptroller's audit uncovered possible irregularities in the use and reporting of credit card transactions.

Based upon the findings of the ethics panel -- which reportedly uncovered possible further misappropriations not contained in the state's audit report -- the district's former treasurer, Shari Salim, was suspended from the district for two years; her brother, and former department chief Jeff Ammon, was suspended for one year, and their father, trustee Bob Ammon, was asked to resign from the district board.

The trio will also be asked to reimburse any funds due to the district, plus legal and accounting fees.

The district's recently retained attorney, Mark Boylan, of Le Roy, said after the meeting that the matter has also been turned over to the Genesee County Sheriff's Office for a possible criminal investigation. 

The resolution passed by the board also appoints a CPA to do a thorough audit of the district's books.

While the ethics panel's report indicates there was allegedly repeated personal use of the district credit cards by Shari and Jeff, it's unclear how much of that personal use was reimbursed to the district.  

One charge by Bob Ammon came under scrutiny. In 2007, Ammon reportedly made a $359.51 purchase at Dick's Sporting Goods. While listed in the report as a not approved purchase, Ammon reportedly told the ethics panel that the purchase was agreed to and paid for by the fire department. The purchase, he reportedly told the panel, was for exercise equipment for the fire hall.

The report states that while payments were made on the credit cards with other than district funds, some of those payments were late resulting in late charges on the district's cards.

There are also authorized purchases on the cards, allegedly, for which there are no receipts and no proof that the purchases were actually made.

The total of non-approved charges from 2004 to 2007 (the period reviewed by the panel, since the comptroller's office had looked at more recent dates) exceed $2,600, according to the report. Again, a substantial amount of that money appears to have been repaid with non-district funds, but the panel could not determine the exact amount that was repaid.

The district board, while it includes volunteers for the department, is elected by Corfu residents. The board collects taxes and manages some of the revenue used to help fund the fire department. The fire district and fire department are separate entities.

Only three members of the district board participated in the closed session because Bob Ammon recused himself and a fifth member was unable to attend because of health issues.

Corfu Fire District appoints ethics panel to investigate credit card use

By Howard B. Owens

At the end of a sometimes tense meeting, the Corfu Fire District Board of Trustees voted to appoint an ethics panel to look into alleged financial improprities by the district's treasurer and a former fire chief.

The panel will make a recommendation to the district board on how to handle the matter.

The alleged improprieties were disclosed publicly by the NYS Comptroller's Office on Monday in a report that accused the district board of not keeping proper financial records and not reviewing them properly, which led to the board not catching alleged unauthorized use of district credit cards.

The ethics panel will include David Saleh, a volunteer firefighter who often helps the district and the Corfu Fire Department (a separate entity from the district) on legal matters. Saleh is past president of the Genesee County Bar Association.

Pushing hard for the board to take action on the matter was Greg Lang, president of the Corfu Fire Department.

While Lang (in the background of the bottom photo) never explicitly called for the district to fire its treasurer, Shari Salim, he did talk about the fact he has been contacted by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office regarding a possible criminal investigation. He said he was expected to call the Sheriff's Office today and report the results of the board meeting. What happened, he said, could determine whether the Sheriff's Office would open an investigation, or whether he would ask for such an investigation.

"I'm going to have to do what I have to do," Lang said several times.

“I’m telling you right now, if this thing doesn’t go right, we’re going to lose members," Lang said at one point. "There’s no question about it. You guys up there ain't good for nothin' if you ain't got members back here. ...I've had members call me, I've had members come up to me and say, 'I'm not going to be in a fire department where this is going on.”

Salim (in the second photo, far end of the table) is the daughter of district board Chairman Bob Ammon and the brother of Jeff Ammon, the former Corfu chief also named in the comptroller's report for allegedly using a district credit card for personal purchases.

She is a paid staff member of the district, drawing a stipend to serve as treasurer and secretary.

Ammon, a former chief, has also twice been named firefighter of the year for Corfu.

Salim reportedly admitted to the state auditor that she used the credit card for personal purchases. What wasn't clear from the report -- and came out at the meeting -- was that Salim and Ammon paid back the district prior to the audit. However, the board never found out about the purchases or the payback until after the auditor started going through the books.

The district board, while including volunteers for the department, is elected by Corfu residents. The board collects taxes and manages some of the revenue used to help fund the fire department.

At one point during the meeting, Bob Ammon (sitting in the foreground, second photo) became visibly distraught and made an impassioned speech about the toll the finance matter has taken on him. He said it was "tearing him up" over what it meant for his kids, the department and said he'd received threats.

"I thought we were a sisterhood or a brotherhood, but the crap I hear – my phone rings constantly," said Ammon, who's been with the department for 52 years. "'What’s this I read on Facebook?' they say. 'What’s this text message about?' It's terrible.

"I was told I was going to be friggin’ arrested the other night," saying later that if the board failed in its oversight, "we screwed up."

"We do the things we can do and I’m sorry," Ammon added. "I’ll apologize if I’m the guy who is going to get arrested and go to jail. I just turned 70 years old and they’re going to come, with my broken knee, and lock me up? I’m just sick about it."

It was that kind of talk -- the rumors of arrests and threats of arrest -- that drove Saleh (foreground, bottom photo) to get involved in Thursday's meeting, the attorney said.

"There are a couple of things that really crawled under my skin," Saleh said. "For months we've been hearing about allegations of criminal conduct and people are going to get arrested, but I read the audit report and I see nothing in there that indicates any criminal conduct."

Lang wondered how it could not be a criminal matter, saying it seemed to him that using somebody else's credit card without permission would be stealing.

"There's been talk of a credit card policy," Lang said. "Do you really need somebody to tell you not to use a credit card?"

One of the recommendations by the auditor was that the board write a credit card policy, which the board said it would do in its written response authored by Ammon.

As for whether there is criminal conduct, Saleh said in order for the use to be considered criminal there would need to be proof of intent and he said from reading the audit report, he didn't see the intent.

After some more back-and-forth over whether there was criminal conduct, Bruce Fauth basically said, "enough."

"There is a direct implication on the fire district and therefore the fire department," said Fauth (inset photo). "Therefore, I don't care about the criminality of it. I care about whether it's right or wrong and how it reflects on the fire department."

There was a lot of discussion over how much interest and fees was accrued on the credit cards -- the report said $1,600 -- and how much interest has been paid -- the report said $380 has been paid.

It's unclear how the rest of the balance was paid. The report states that Shari Salim and Jeff Ammon repaid the amounts they allegedly charged on the cards.

An examination of interest accrued and payments made will be part of the investigation by the ethics panel, which will require it to examine all of the credit card statements.

The panel will also look at the purchases, whether the district's sales-tax exemption was used, whether the personal use as a "mistake," what documents may have been altered and why the board wasn't made aware of the personal use.

After the public meeting, the district board went into closed session, permissible to discuss personnel issues, and after the closed session announced the formation of the ethics panel with Saleh heading up the investigation.

Lang questioned whether Saleh -- whom he said is friends with Ammon family -- could be impartial.

Saleh said it was his goal to be impartial and he promised an objective examination of the district records.

"I want to do this as a member, not as a lawyer," Saleh said. "I want us as a group to do this right so we set a precedent as to how we're going to handle this if it comes up again in the future. This is too painful for everybody involved for it to be done the way it's been done."

Comptroller's office finds alleged improprieties in Corfu Fire District finances

By Howard B. Owens

A NYS audit of the Corfu Fire District released today (pdf) says that fire district board members have not completed proper annual audits and that such audits would have found unauthorized personal use of district credit cards.

The fire district collects taxes to help fund the Corfu Fire Department, but is a separate entity from the fire department.

Its annual budget is more than $112,000.

The NYS Office of the Comptroller examined the district's financial records for 2008 through 2011.

Among the findings was that allegedly the district treasurer and a former fire chief made personal purchases with district credit cards totalling $2,045.

The report states that the treasurer confirmed $601 in purchases made in June and July of 2009 were for personal items.

The former chief allegedly made purchases reportedly for $779 from July through December 2008. His January 2008 bill also included a balance due of $665, according to the report.

Neither the former chief nor the treasurer are named in the report, but the report states these charges were reimbursed to the district, though it's unclear when the reimbursements took place.

According to the comptroller's office, district credit card balances included $1,600 in interest and late fees.

The district paid $380 in fees and interest, but only authorized $142 of these payments, according to the report.

"If the board had properly reviewed the actual credit card monthly billing statement," the report reads, "it would have seen that the amount on the abstract was greater than the amount due for legitimate district purchases."

The report, issued to the district on Sept. 2, offers four recommendations, including that the board: formerly adopt a credit card policy; audit every claim before approving payment; require annual financial reports issued to the comptroller's office; and that the treasurer make payments directly to vendors as authorized by the board.

In a response letter, Board Chairman Robert Ammon says that the district will adopt a former credit card policy and that it adopted internal financial controls in 2009. He also says the district has sought and received assistance from the controller's office on filing proper reports, and that the board will document concerns and require further back up for any questionable expenditures.

The response letter states that reports were not filed with the state previously because of technical difficulties involved in meeting new requirements by the state.

The letter does not directly address the issue of unauthorized use of district credit cards for personal purchases.

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