Saturday, December 6, 2014

U.S. Attorney will not pursue charges against CO Kevin Rogers


The U.S. Attorney, in a rare letter of vindication, said he will not bring formal charges against Kevin Rogers, the corrections officer who was being investigated for improperly spending union funds.

Rogers was the vice president of the now defunct Sheriff’s Employees Association of Rensselaer County. He came under investigation for spending union dues on dinners at expensive restaurants, strip clubs, charitable organizations he fancied and political campaigns of candidates he favored.
Sheriff Jack Mahar placed Rogers on suspension with full pay – about $75,000 - four years ago while the federal government investigated. Now that the investigation is closed, it’s unclear if Rogers will go back to work for his paycheck. Mahar has, in the past, said Rogers will never work at the jail again.
The union’s president at the time, Mark Piche, was also investigated. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion in an unrelated matter involving the Red Front Restaurant, which is owned by his family, and resigned his post as a corrections officer. As was reported earlier, part of that deal was his agreeing to testify against Rogers should the case ever made it to trial. 
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Richard S. Hartunian, in the Dec. 5 letter to Rogers’s attorney Gaspar M. Castillo, said he would hand information over to the state Attorney General, but the statute of limitations is rapidly approaching. And, it’s widely believed, that if the federal government couldn’t find any crime after four years of probing, the state government will give it a cursory glance at best.
Sources say that investigators for the U.S. Attorney’s Office reached out to Rogers on a number of occasions – the latest being last week – saying they were ready to indict and that it would go easier on him if he cooperated. Rogers declined to talk and instead called their bluff.
Rogers never denied spending the union money in the manner stated above and most, if not all, of the transactions were recorded as expenditures in the union check book. However, once the investigation was kicked off, union members complained of not having access to the records, asked for a criminal investigation and voted to dissolve the union.
The initial complaint filed by some union members came after Gary Gordon challenged Mahar for sheriff in 2011. Personnel at the jail were split on which camp they supported during the heated, contentious campaign.
This fall, Rogers joined a handful of jail employees – civilian and uniformed - who filed a civil suit against Mahar and Rensselaer County for claims their medical records were accessed in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA. The county has settled one suit for $20,000.  
The U.S. Attorney – or any investigatory body – rarely sends a letter stating the case is closed and charges will not be pursued. The only other person to receive such a letter, in recent memory, was then Cohoes Mayor Bob Signoracci after the FBI concluded its investigation into a number of alleged financial improprieties without bringing charges in the mid-1990s.
More information as it becomes available.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A budget disaster nobody knew about

I was going to stay up late last night and write something about the most inept, dysfunctional, indecisive Council in recent memory but I figured if they can just blow everything off so can I.
I’m not paid for this, however, and I don’t have nearly 50,000 people expecting me to write this column a few times a week. The nine members of the Council are paid to pass a responsible budget.
Hell, the Council president, Rodney Wiltshire, wasn’t even there to pass the budget – the single most important thing he is elected to do. And he was absent for the second year in a row.
I suppose I could have kicked off this column by saying “despite the administration’s best efforts” but that would just be laughable.
Of course, I’m referring to the Council’s decision to not vote on the mayor’s budget during a Finance Committee meeting. Actually, they didn’t vote on any budget and as such the mayor’s budget – which is $30,000 out of whack – goes into effect.
The Council also didn’t officially  
set a tax levy so if they don’t reconvene and do that, Trojans won’t have to pay any taxes in 2015. Maybe that’s why they did what they did. What politician would not get elected if he or she abolished taxes altogether.
It’s been a disaster right from the get-go. Let’s recap:
-The mayor’s budget, proposed in October, included deferring $1.9 million in pension costs from ’15 to ’16 and a $650,000 one-shot from the sale of the old city hall site on Monument Square. That means ’16 starts with a deficit of about $2.5 million.
-The ‘15 budget also includes $14,000 for a new dais to be permanently installed in the Council chambers in the building the city rents.  
-The state Comptroller came out with a report telling the city it could run a deficit as high as $800,000 in ’14 and if that projection comes true it could mean the city is back under the thumb of the Financial Control Board for the first time in nearly two decades.
-The state Comptroller, in his annual review of the budget, said the city spent $5.9 million more than it took in from 2011 through 2013. It made ends meet – and ignored the structural deficit – by syphoning off the water fund and spending money in the accounts reserved for capital projects, future contractual obligations and other unspecified but expected costs.
-The Council asks the mayor to see what it would look like if he cut 3 percent from each department.
-The mayor did and it included laying off 10 firefighters and five cops plus three civilians from the TPD.
-It took the Council all of seven minutes to say we aren’t cutting the Police of Fire departments and blamed the mayor for not coming up with another idea.
-The mayor – to his credit – didn’t blame the Council for not doing their job and making their own cuts or coming up with any ideas to raise revenues. Didn’t mean they did any of the things they are paid for, but at least the mayor took the high road and didn’t make the Council look any worse. Yes, it would have been possible.
-Some on the Council, though, did take their shots at the mayor but it rings hollow because nobody came up with any other ideas.
-Throughout it all, the mayor and the Council made a deer caught in the headlights look like a Rhodes Scholar and claim they had no idea the city’s financial picture was this bad. Yes, ignorance is bliss. Or maybe it is disguised by feral cats, shady demolition projects, cheap sidewalks, racial tension, solar energy, a tech committee and ribbon cuttings.
-Someone had to know and that someone is Acting Comptroller Joe Mazzariello. But, since he works for the mayor, the mayor had to know, and since the mayor is required by the Charter to give the Council quarterly financial updates the Council had to know.
-But nobody knows nothin’. Even the state Comptroller didn’t know. I looked at the budget reviews dating to ’09 and not one goes back three years like it did for ’15. Amazing, really, how things can fall through the cracks if you push it hard enough.
-And someone was pushing for four straight years – 2011-2014. But, sooner rather than later, the crack closes up and the all the stuff shoved in will explode like one of those spring loaded gag gifts. Except it’s not a joke. We are talking about the budget, here, and that impacts everyone living in the Collar City.