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County rejects fuel bid over legal issue

May 14, 2019 10:01 pm

Columbia-Greene Media

CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers rejected a resolution to award a fuel contract to the lowest bidder due to recent litigation.

In a 5-4 vote, the resolution failed to pass in the Finance Committee on Monday.

Bottini Fuel, of Saugerties, was the lowest bidder, offering a rate of $2.1833 per gallon and a delivery charge of $0.1240. The county anticipates using 24,000 gallons between its highway garage in Ashland, the Cairo Office building on Mountain Avenue and the Rivertown Senior Center in Athens.

Legislators Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, Michael Bulich, R-Catskill and Gregory Davis, R-Greenville supported the resolution.

Legislators Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie, Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, William Lawrence, R-Cairo and Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill opposed it.

Bottini Fuel pleaded guilty in November to diverting more than $1.7 million from customer credit balances and was ordered to pay $3.2 million in criminal restitution and civil damages, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

When the resolution first surfaced in the Public Works Committee, legislators asked if Bottini could be disqualified as the lowest responsible first bidder, a requirement by the attorney general’s office. Bottini’s legal issue was closed, county attorney Edward Kaplan said.

“This would be fertile ground for a lawsuit,” he said.

The resolution passed Public Works with Lawrence, Martinez, Hobart and Linger voting against it.

“I’m opposed to it as well,” Legislator Patricia Handel, R-Durham said. “But our legal counsel told us our hands are tied.”

Bottini did not notify its clients if they overpaid, Kaplan said, but swept the funds into personal accounts.

“That was illegal though right?” Lawrence said.

Kaplan confirmed that it was.

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden reminded legislators that the county is obligated to take the lowest responsible bid.

“It is also the governing board’s responsibility to ensure that sealed bids are opened at a public meeting and that the bid is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder,” according to the state comptroller’s website.

Bulich agreed with Handel and expressed concern that rejecting the bid could result in costly legal fees.

“You should all feel free to vote with your conscience,” Kaplan said.

Overbaugh, who had originally made the motion to support the resolution in Finance, withdrew her motion and changed her vote.

“We are not condoning what the owners did,” Gardner said. “I’m sure there are Bottini employees in Greene County that are mortified by what the company did and have to take a lot of grief for what the owners did. I don’t think they deserve to have this rejected.”

Davis changed his vote from being against the bid to for it.

Bottini was charged with second-degree falsifying business records, for the offense, which took place between 2004 and 2016 and affected 131 customers.

“Bottini Fuel orchestrated a brazen scheme to defraud its customers for the benefit of the company and its owners,” according to the state Attorney General’s Office. “This conduct was long-standing and harmed individual, business and government customers.”

Local government agencies affected include the town and village of Hunter, Jewett, the East Jewett Fire Department, the Clermont Fire Station and the Catskill location of Capital Region Off-Track Betting, according to the settlement released by the attorney general’s office.

Groden wanted to know how the fuel bid dilemma would be resolved.

“We had a passage in one committee and a failure in another and I still need fuel,” he said.

To award the bid to the second lowest bidder, Main Care, the resolution would have to come up again in Public Works, Gardner said.

The legislature will hold special Public Works and Finance Committee meetings Wednesday night before the full board meeting.

Note - that was 131 *government customers* - there were hundreds of individual consumers affected as well. Watch out for the misinformation and spin the Bottinis put out in the aftermath of this scandal to try and spin it.