Audit: Ex-Cobleskill official dipped into village funds

Stanton-Terk

An audit report of the village of Cobleskill released earlier this month by the Office of the New York State Comptroller revealed a former village clerk and treasurer misappropriated funds for nearly three years.

The August 2014 to June 2017 report showed then-village Clerk and Treasurer Samantha Moyster received inappropriate payments totaling $8,828. The matter has been referred to the Schoharie County District Attorney’s Office, according to the report.

County District Attorney Susan Mallery was unavailable for comment, according to the office, and she didn’t respond to an email requesting an interview before print deadline.

Moyster used 236 hours of paid leave she didn’t accrue, valued at $5,079; underpaid her portion of health insurance premiums by $437; paid herself $1,312 for compensatory time which, as a department head, she wasn’t allowed to earn; and inaccurately calculated health insurance buyout payments for herself and her spouse totaling $2,000.

According to the report, Moyster told the village personnel committee she made errors in previous payrolls for hours she was scheduled to be paid in accordance with her contract, alleging the pay increase was to make up the difference. However, the report read, payroll reports showed the pay increase was for the inappropriate compensatory time.

In 2016 and 2017, 18 employees overpaid their premiums and 15 underpaid, according to the report. Moyster said she made a mistake calculating health insurance premium deductions for all employees and that the village should refund every employee for their over payments, incorrectly implying she also overpaid, according to the report. 

Moyster alleged she owed the village $1,500 less than what was owed for the health insurance buyout error, claiming to have overpaid $588 for health insurance, according to the report.

The village is governed by a mayor — Linda Holmes during the audit period — and an elected board of trustees.

“The Board and the former Mayor did not properly oversee the former Clerk-Treasurer, failed to implement adequate controls over the billing, cash receipts, cash disbursements and payroll processes and did not ensure that the annual audits of the former Clerk-Treasurer’s records and reports could be completed, as required,” the report read.

According to the report, then-Mayor Holmes said personnel issues regarding Moyster weren’t reported to the village board during public meetings or in executive session. Holmes instructed the personnel committee not to report any information to the entire board, according to the report.

Neither Holmes or Moyster returned multiple phone messages for comment by print deadline.

The village board did not reappoint Moyster in December 2017. She was replaced by Sheila Wilday, who had previously served as the village’s clerk and treasurer for almost 30 years.

Current Mayor Rebecca Stanton-Terk, whose term began in December 2019, said Wilday worked more than 60 hours each week to correct accounting errors.

A independent auditor’s report of the village by public accounting firm Mostert, Manzanero & Scott showed corrections of previous issues by the end of 2018.

These include balance sheet accounts being adjusted to their proper amounts, cash transfers from various accounts to other fund accounts being recorded in the general fund ledger and correcting many general ledger account balances.

The comptroller’s office recommended the village discuss inappropriate payments with the village attorney and seek reimbursement from Moyster as appropriate, develop protocol to ensure village money is safeguarded and obtain appropriate training.

The village must submit a corrective action plan to the comptroller’s office within 90 days of the report’s release. Stanton-Terk in a Dec. 20 letter to the comptroller’s office said the village agreed with the audit findings and that a written plan was forthcoming. 

“Going forward, we feel that we’ve pretty much remedied the problem by not reappointing the clerk-treasurer in December of 2017, and hiring Sheila Wilday to come back,” Stanton-Terk said. “She has since repaired all the damage that was done.”

Stanton-Terk said the board members in question in the report no longer serve on the board in any capacity. The new board members will discuss options for pursuing the misappropriated money in executive session at a Tuesday, Jan. 21 meeting, consulting with the village’s legal counsel, she said.

“It’s not a witch hunt,” Stanton-Terk said. “We had an issue and we’re moving forward, and everything is going in the right direction, so I certainly don’t want the village to have a black eye.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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