Ex-treasurer pleads guilty

Former Chatham village clerk-treasurer Barbara Henry. Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media

CHATHAM — Former Chatham village treasurer Barbara Henry pleaded guilty to attempted official misconduct late Wednesday for stealing village funds.

Henry, 60, of Chatham admitted in Chatham Town Court to stealing almost $4,000 from April 2017 to April 2018. Henry was originally charged in March with first-degree tampering with records, a class D felony; two counts of grand larceny in the third degree, a class D felony, and official misconduct, a class A misdemeanor.

District Attorney Paul Czajka said in court Wednesday that the recommendation was for Henry to plead guilty to attempted official misconduct. Chatham Town Justice James Borgia-Forster agreed. Borgia-Forster also fined Henry $250 in addition to paying full restitution.

A joint investigation by state police and the state Comptrollers Office found that Henry used her position as treasurer to waive the cost to herself and have the village pay her health insurance premiums. Henry was responsible for paying 50% of her health insurance and the village was responsible for the other 50%, according to the comptroller’s report.

“Ms. Henry took advantage of her public position to have the taxpayers fully fund her insurance costs,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement. “This kind of corruption drives up costs and erodes the public trust. Those who abuse the system will be caught and brought to justice.”

Henry was employed by the village from late 2012 until she resigned in August 2018. The Columbia County District Attorney’s office said the scheme caused the village to spend more than $1,000 that it did not owe.

Henry was ordered by the comptroller’s office to pay $3,586 in restitution for stealing the village health insurance premiums and an alleged theft committed against her other employer, Cadmus Lifesharing Association, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts.

Henry is accused of stealing more than $8,420 in funds between October 2014 and December 2020 from Cadmus of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which cares for individuals with disabilities.

Czajka said he deferred to the Massachusetts authorities for prosecuting that matter, although Henry has paid restitution to Cadmus for thefts that occurred in Columbia County.

DiNapoli’s office discovered the alleged Massachusetts theft although Cadmus had been unaware of it.

“I strongly believe that, if there is one arm of state government that pays for itself by discovering financial misdeeds and deterring thefts, it is this investigative unit of the Comptroller’s office,” Czajka said. “I also note that Mayor John Howe, although not in office while the crimes were committed, took the lead in ensuring that all village employees cooperated fully.”

Howe expressed relief at the conclusion of an ordeal that lasted more than two years and said he was pleased the village was made whole again.

“There’s checks and balances in our systems,” Howe said. “Hopefully nothing like this ever happens again.”

The two-year investigation began shortly before state police executed Columbia County Judge Jonathan Nichols’ search warrant on Jan. 8, 2019. Former Chatham village police chief Peter Volkmann was convicted as a result of the same probe into Chatham’s finances.

Volkmann, while serving as Chatham police chief and, earlier, as Stockport police chief, engaged in a scheme to steal $74,222 from the New York State Retirement System. Volkmann hid public-source income from 19 municipalities and school districts in excess of the statutory limit by funneling the earnings through a private business, PF Volkmann & Associates. He also engaged in a scheme to submit false mileage vouchers and other reimbursements to the village of Chatham, defrauding taxpayers of $18,607.

On Feb. 11, Volkmann, 57, of Stuyvesant pleaded guilty to fourth-degree grand larceny, a class E felony, and official misconduct, a class A misdemeanor. Columbia County Judge Richard Koweek ordered Volkmann to pay a total of $92,829 in restitution to the village of Chatham and the state Retirement System, which he did prior to his sentencing.

The District Attorney’s office said with Volkmann and Henry’s guilty pleas, all of the stolen funds from Chatham have been restored and neither will be eligible for public office again.

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