Shandaken worker arrested for theft
By Jay Braman Jr.
Shandaken Highway Department employee Florence Sullivan, who was arrested Monday on charges of grand larceny and two other felonies, allegedly appears to have been lining her pockets with taxpayer money for years with over $20,000 reportedly having been stolen before authorities discovered what she was doing.
That is according to Supervisor Rob Stanley, who spoke about the case on Friday after keeping quiet during the seven-month long investigation into Sullivan’s activities.
Stanley said that Sullivan, 46, of Chichester, has worked for the town for the past 17 years in various capacities, and the investigation by state police and the state comptroller unearthed problems that go back seven years.
Stanley said the problem may go back even further, but the statute of limitations only allows that Sullivan be held accountable for the past seven. “This goes back to previous administrations,” he added.
Sullivan’s arrest stems from a seven-month investigation by the New York State Police and the state’s Office of the State Comptroller into a complaint that Sullivan had falsified business records associated with the Town of Shandaken Highway Department’s payroll.
As a result of an audit of the Town of Shandaken Highway Department by the Office of the State Comptroller, auditors discovered numerous discrepancies in Sullivan’s payroll. Over the past seven months, the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, along with auditors from the Office of the State Comptroller, completed a review of the highway department’s payroll records, including FEMA storm relief payments that had been received as a result of hurricane damage. It was allegedly discovered that Sullivan had falsified her own payroll records associated with federal storm relief funds, as well as manipulated the financial records related to other employees of the town, resulting in the wrongful withholding of money of other town employees. The investigation allegedly revealed that Sullivan had received over $20,000 in payroll overpayments and benefits as a result of her actions.
Stanley said it appears that Sullivan was double dipping when it came to being paid for working on storm relief matters after Hurricane Irene. The supervisor said Sullivan would bill the town for hours worked on storm relief and be paid by the town for that work, but then Sullivan would also take payment for those same hours worked when FEMA sent the town reimbursement checks for those hours.
He also said that Sullivan was in charge of handling the employee contributions for health insurance, not only for the highway department but also for all town employees. Sullivan was allegedly reducing her own contribution and hiding it by inflating the contributions of other employees. Stanley said this was easy to hide because everyone’s contribution was different.
“You couldn’t go to a co-worker and compare the amount taken out of your check,” he said.
Sullivan was even allegedly bloating her own hourly wage, sometimes by as little as six cents per hour, the supervisor said.
Stanley notes that Sullivan was only three years away from retirement. She would have been eligible for lifelong health benefits, but that won’t happen now.
Stanley noted that the investigation continues. He also said it remains unclear if town employees will be reimbursed for those inflated health insurance contributions or if the town will get back the storm-relief money Sullivan is believed to have pocketed.
In a prepared statement, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli he was glad his office participated bringing Sullivan to justice. “By knowingly stealing federal storm relief funds, this individual decided that lining her own pockets was more important than helping her community recover from hurricane damage,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that my office continues to uncover cases where public figures abuse their positions at the expense of taxpayers.”
Sullivan was arraigned in the Town of Shandaken Court and was released on her own recognizance to return to court on Tuesday, July 23.