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June 11, 2008

Highway super is arrested

By Jake Palmateer

The town of Delhi highway superintendent was arrested Tuesday and charged with defrauding the town.

Robert A. Howard, 54, of Delhi, is alleged to have redeemed scrap metal at an area recycling center and kept the proceeds, according to Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup.

Howard was charged with official misconduct, a misdemeanor, and defrauding the government, a felony.

However, Howard's attorney, Michael A. Jacobs, said his client did not intend to do

anything wrong when he returned the scrap metal in 2006, and that he used proceeds to buy soda and pizza for highway department employees who were putting in long hours.

"He certainly had no idea that any of that was criminal," Jacobs said Tuesday afternoon. "He will be vindicated and found not guilty at the end of this ordeal."

Between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007, Howard "engaged in a scheme constituting a systematic on-going course of conduct with intent to defraud the town of Delhi, N.Y. and in doing so obtained property with a value in excess of $1000," according to a media release from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies referred all questions about the arrest to Northrup's office.

Northrup said Howard is believed to have netted about $1,100 from the sale of scrap metal.

He would not comment on whether Howard is suspected of other illegal activity.

"The investigation is continuing," Northrup said.

Delhi Town Supervisor Peter Bracci said the town board became aware of the allegations several months ago after "a source that came to my assistant and my assistant brought that to my attention.

"With the consultation of my board, I brought that to the district attorney's attention," Bracci said.

Bracci said his assistant would not release the identity of this source.

"We all feel very saddened," Bracci said. "We're just trying to do what is right."

Proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal would have been considered revenue under the highway department budget and not the town's general fund budget, Bracci said.

But any funds procured from the sale of the scrap metal would still be considered property of the town, he said.

Howard, who ran unopposed for re-election on the Republican ticket last year, was surprised at his arrest, Jacobs said.

"He's quite upset and distraught that he is in this position," Jacobs said.

The section of law under which his client was arrested does not fit the facts of the case, Jacobs said.

Howard was issued appearance tickets dated for June 17 in Colchester Town Court.

The felony charge has a maximum sentence upon conviction of 1 1/3-to-4 years in prison, while the misdemeanor charge could result in a maximum sentence of a year in county jail.

The case is probably proceeding through Colchester Town Court, Jacobs said, because of his client's close ties to officials, including judges, in the town of Delhi.

Jacobs said Howard, who was an employee of the highway department for 16 years and the elected superintendent for the last five years, was intending to go to work today.

Bracci said he consulted with the town's attorney over what course the town board should take in lieu of the arrest.

"We are not empowered to remove him," Bracci said. "There is no conviction of this man yet, so we have to act as though he is an innocent man."

In an unrelated 2005 case, former Delhi Town Clerk Bryan W. Fitch pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree grand larceny for embezzling about $20,000 in town funds. He was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay restitution.

Under New York state penal law:

Defrauding the government:

A person is guilty of defrauding the government when, being a public servant or party officer, he:

(a) engages in a scheme constituting a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud the state or a political subdivision of the state or a governmental instrumentality within the state or to obtain property from the state or a political subdivision of the state or a governmental instrumentality within the state by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises and

(b) so obtains property with a value in excess of $1,000 from such state, political subdivision or governmental instrumentality.

Defrauding the government is a class E felony.

Official misconduct.

A public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another person of a benefit:

1. He commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized; or

2. He knowingly refrains from performing a duty which is imposed upon him by law or is clearly inherent in the nature of his office.

Official misconduct is a class A misdemeanor.