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Chatham village finances, former treasurer under investigation

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    State police searched a home on Brookside Avenue and the Tracy Memorial Village Hall in the village of Chatham on Tuesday as part of their investigation into the village’s finances.
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    State police searched a home on Brookside Avenue and the Tracy Memorial Village Hall in the village of Chatham on Tuesday as part of their investigation into the village’s finances.
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    State police search 10 Brookside Ave., Chatham, early Tuesday as part of an investigation into the village of Chatham’s finances.
January 8, 2019 12:03 pm Updated: January 8, 2019 07:56 pm

CHATHAM — State police executed search warrants Tuesday at the Brookside Avenue home of former treasurer Barbara Henry and at Tracy Memorial Village Hall as part of an investigation into the village’s finances.

Investigators carried out the search warrants on behalf of state police, the state Department of Taxation and Finance and state Comptroller’s office, who are heading the investigation.

The investigation is related to overdue payments to the Internal Revenue Service, Chatham Village Mayor Thomas Curran said Tuesday.

“As far as I know, they [investigators] are doing all the proper steps for an official inquiry,” Curran said.

State police deferred questions about the investigation to the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office. A spokesman at the state Comptroller’s Office said there would be no comment on the investigation at this time.

“At this point, we don’t know what they’re looking for or what the results will be until they have looked at the data,” Curran said.

The village of Chatham will have to pay the IRS more than $18,000 in penalties after owing the federal government a principle amount in taxes of $52,104 — most of which were more than a year overdue, officials announced in December.

The village has paid the taxes owed to the IRS, but was notified that $2,333 in interest and $22,986 in late penalty fees remained unpaid. Village officials have sought a waiver from the IRS for those payments. The IRS agreed to waive about $11,930 in penalties and interest, but would not waive the remaining $18,112, Treasurer Robert Patterson said in December.

The overdue tax amounts were the result of bookkeeping errors, Village Trustee Mike Wollowitz said in September.

The village also owes the state Department of Taxation and Finance and notified residents that officials discovered state payroll taxes have not been paid since the 4th quarter of 2015. The village did not pay its state payroll tax withholdings from the last quarter of 2015 — the taxes due January 2016 — through the second quarter of 2018.

“The withholdings were taken out of employees’ paychecks and put aside,” Patterson said in December. “They were never paid and nothing was filed. It was like no one knew they had to do anything with them.”

The village paid what it owed by check Nov. 29 for $47,561 with the needed filings.

Curran said he and other village officials do not know why the payments were not made.

“All the monies that were supposed to go to the state have been paid,” Curran said. “They were in the general fund. I don’t know why they didn’t get paid to proper agencies because we had the money. That is something the comptroller will figure out.”

Henry, the village’s former treasurer, lives at 10 Brookside Ave., where police conducted a search, according to Columbia County Property Records. Henry resigned as treasurer last Aug. 26. She could not be reached by telephone for comment Tuesday.

“District Attorney [Paul] Czajka assures the residents and taxpayers of the village that he is hopeful that the investigation will provide a definitive determination of the cause of recent financial issues so that solutions can be explored,” the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Tuesday.

Anyone with information relevant to the investigation is asked to call state police at 518-851-2975.

The investigation began with state police investigators from Livingston, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office and Columbia County District Attorney’s Office, according to Czajka. Search warrants were secured by Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty and investigator Feroze Munim with the state police in Columbia County early this week.

Czajka cautioned that the investigation is in its beginning stages, and that the “presence of troopers and investigators does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that criminal activity has occurred,” according to the statement.

Village officials support the investigation made by state officials, according to a statement from the village on Tuesday evening.

“The Village Board and all current village officials support, and have fully supported this inquiry by state investigators…,” according to a statement from the village on its Facebook page. “The village will continue to support all necessary inquiry to correct and fully resolve these matters, and will continue to advise the public of developments and progress to the extent that it is able.”

The state entered the investigation after a village trustee called the Comptroller’s Office, Curran said. Curran would not identify the trustee at this time.

“As the village has previously publicized, this is part of an ongoing inquiry into village financial matters that began last summer following the discovery by village officials of apparent financial irregularities,” according to the village’s statement. “Upon discovering unexplained discrepancies, village officials made a request last July to the office of state comptroller for help resolving financial concerns.”

Auditors from the state Comptroller’s Office have come to the village multiple times since the payroll tax issue was discovered to gather copies of financial documents such as payroll records, checks and statements, Curran said in December.

Two state troopers were posted outside village hall on Tuesday. A man who walked up the steps to enter was told by the troopers to come back in a couple of hours.

Chatham’s mayor expects the state police probe will take a long time to complete.

“It could be six months to a year before we really know what is going on,” Curran said. “They [state investigators] want a clear snapshot of village business, then they will make a determination [on how to pursue their investigation] on their own schedule.”

Village Hall was expected to reopen Tuesday afternoon, Curran said. Among the items seized by police were files and computers, Curran said.

“They will be out of business for half a day,” Curran said. “Then we will be back up and running in a few days when the computers come back. It should not be too much of an inconvenience.”

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to apurcell@thedailymail.net, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.