Inside the Highway Investigation:
Wegner Says he’s familiar with Cheektowaga’s Policy & Procedure manual, but Never Checked the Rules and Regulations
by Chris Stevenson
Back on 3/31/15 the New York State Highway Attorney General’s office sent a letter to Kenneth Manning of the Philips Lytle LLP law firm (on behalf of Atty General Eric Schneiderman) regarding a complaint filed by Manning. This was to let him know his complaint didn’t warrant any action by the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB): “Please note:The complaint you have filed with this office has no effect on any statute of limitations filing deadlines that might apply to your claim.”
Almost two weeks later Town Council Diane Benczkowski told the Buffalo News that roughly $100,000 was spent to find out whether or not unauthorized town equipment was used, and town employees were paid for hours they never worked, and in the end nothing was done. Fiscally that pretty much brings Cheektowaga full-circle with their ever increasing invisible dollars. Maybe Gov. Cuomo called Public Integrity and told them to disband the Cheektowaga town probe just like he disbanded his own Ethics Investigation… hmmmm.
(Painting by RL Pelshaw- cs)
What was this complaint about and the reason for it? The Town of Cheektowaga had previously retained Lytle, one of Buffalo’s biggest law offices, to conduct an internal investigation on alleged improprieties regarding payroll and other suspicious practices there (Lytle hired private investigator Peter Vito of Peter M. Vito & Associates to assist in the investigation). These investigations revealed irregularities in the pay practices of the Highway Department, namely the deputy Highway Superintendent contrary to town policy.” Could this be the same report that Town Council Diane Benczkowski was accused of covering up months ago? The findings came out in early February, “from January 1, 2011 through September 14, 2014, the Deputy Highway Superintendent claimed and was paid compensatory time totaling 742.5 hours representing and overpayment of $28, 591.41.” The bullet recently received volumes of information relating to that investigation. Information just made available recently. This is the first in a series of reports the buffalo bullet will bring to you regarding that town and it’s leaders, and why change is desperately needed.
“The investigation revealed that the Highway Superintendent authorized road millings to be gifted to the Lancaster Country Club, where he was then a member… several departments allowed employees to borrow town tools and equipment. The Deputy Highway Superintendent however, extended this liberty to arranging for a town employee to deliver a skid-steer to his residence.” Over a week ago it has come to light Wegner has been virtually giving himself a raise in the form of overpayments over a four-year-period, in addition to having signed off on time not worked by employees under him.
“The investigation revealed that the time records containing overtime hours regularly were approved by department heads and submitted to payroll without any verification of the hours actually worked.” Town Supervisor Mary Holtz told Ch.7 News the Town has reached out to the Comptroller’s office since the AG and PIB are unwilling to go farther than just acknowledge what was revealed in the probe and who’s responsible. This reporter contacted the State Comptroller’s office and the investigator I spoke with hasn’t heard anything from Cheektowaga.
“The investigation revealed that the Central Garage did not always use a bid process to purchase vehicle parts.” Also submitting a statement is Michael J. Lumadue, at that time the Deputy Highway Superintendent who, along with Benczkowski, also works for MJ Peterson at 12:04pm on 9/25/14 to Vito. He stated he made 82Ka year, and when asked how many hours a week he works he said “I work 24/7. Generally I’m here between 6-6:30 and leave between 1:30, 2:00.” Peter Vito then asked Lumadue, “Are you familiar with the Town of Cheektowaga policy and procedures manual?”
“I know it exists, I’m not familiar with it.”
In another statement dated 9/25/14, Wegner by that time a town of Cheektowaga employee for 30 years and Superintendent for 7 was asked by Vito “are you familiar with the town of Cheektowaga policy and procedures manual?”
“Excuse me, I’m not sure what you said there.”
“Are you familiar with the Town of Cheektowaga’s policy and procedure manual for employees and such?”
“And could you explain the Town’s policy pertaining to comp time, or other time as it’s been called?”
“Well, what we were told by the outgoing highway superintendent…”
“And who was that?”
“Christopher Kowal.” Skipping a page Vito then asks Wegner, “And do you know if there’s a policy within the Town of Cheektowaga’s rules and regulations allowing for comp time and/or time coming?”
“I know the police have it. I know they do. I don’t know about Town Hall.”
“Police employees are totally different than hourly and general employees within the Town of Cheektowaga, is that correct?”
“They’re totally different?”
“They have a separate contract, correct?”
“Right.” If it’s true the police has the policy on comp time, then my question is do they enforce it since going by this hearing it doesn’t apply to them?
Vito continues his questioning of Wegner: “Once again, sir, are you familiar with the Town of Cheektowaga’s policy pertaining to comp time?”
“Just what I was told by Chris Kowal.”
“Did you ever check the rules and regulations…”
“No, I did not.”
By now you may be wondering what’s the difference between the Town of Cheektowaga’s policy and procedures manual and the Town’s rules and regulations. I mention the policy and procedures manual because I notice Wegners evasiveness when the issue was bought before him, especially when compared to when the same question was asked of Lumadue and Nancy Symkowiak, whom declined union representation. Both said they know it exists, but weren’t familiar with it.
Contact Stevenson through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter @pointblank009 or @buffalo_bullet