Whistleblower’s Lawsuit Details Systemic Corruption at Ramapo Town Hall
September 4, 2014 When you read the lawsuit summons, several themes emerge. St. Lawrence’s abuse of his power to hire and fire appears over and over as he rewards those who join in in his effort to retaliate against a whistleblower at Ramapo Town Hall. The Statement of Facts (the narrative) portion of the lawsuit reads like fiction as he hands out promotions and raises for each co-conspirator as they line up against the solitary voice speaking out against what she knew was wrong. Most depressing is the general unwillingness to even listen to the warnings Melissa Reimer, Ramapo’s Supervisor of Fiscal Services, offered to legal and financial officers, the Supervisor, and even the outside auditing firm about illegal practices and skewed bookkeeping. "You do not have to do the right thing here," Ms. Reimer recalls being counseled by Nat Oberman, "you only have to play ball and make the Supervisor happy."
Before we get to the very interesting story line as it evolved over several years, here are the basic facts concerning the lawsuit.
Christopher St. Lawrence, Supervisor of the Town
Michael Klein, Ramapo Attorney
Nathan Oberman, Asst. Director of Finance
Linda Condon, Director of Personnel
Beth Finkelstein, Ramapo Attorney
Note: You can read detailed coverage of three of the disciplinary hearings held by the Town elsewhere on PreserveRamapo.org. Here are links to those articles:
The Melissa Reimer Disciplinary
(Includes an interesting discussion about who Ms. Reimer recorded,
how long she had been recording those people, and who has the
iPhones and the transcripts now.)
"You do not have to do the right thing here, you have to play ball and make the supervisor happy."--Nat Oberman: Reimer Hearings Resume (Gets into the details of book cooking at Ramapo, special gifts of taxpayer money, and how a Ramapo audit works, or doesn’t.)
An Accountant, an Auditor, and the Attorney with Amnesia—Melissa Reimer’s Disciplinary Hearing Final Session (During this hearing, attorney Michael Klein exhibits symptoms of early onset something as he seems only able to answer questions with "I don’t recall." A partner from the auditing firm appeared and when asked, "Is it part of your job to detect fraud?" he casually answered, "Not really.")
STATEMENT OF FACTS
This is a condensed version of the narrative presented in the lawsuit by the plaintiff—Melissa Reimer and her attorney Fred Lichtmacher. You can read the full text of the original here.
Near the end of the year 2009, Melissa Reimer began to notice improper financial activities by officials in the Town of Ramapo. Reimer was employed as the Supervisor of Fiscal Services and therefore had a clear view of what flowed in and out of the finance department. When she began reporting these acts, first internally and ultimately to federal investigators, she was subjected to acts of retaliation by authorities at Town.
Nov 9, 2009 Reimer tells Nathan Oberman, the Deputy Director of Finance, that Ramapo’s cash balances were very low and that the budgeted revenues for 2009 and 2010 were overstated and the expenses were understated. These incorrect numbers were created by Supervisor St. Lawrence. With these low cash balances Ramapo was in danger of not being able to meet its fiscal obligations such as payroll. This problem was discussed in meetings that included St. Lawrence.
Also troubling was an entry for $3.08 million on Ramapo’s books. It was listed as a receivable from St. Lawrence’s RLDC (Ramapo Local Development Corp which built the Stadium and the Elm Street housing development). Reimer told Oberman that you cannot keep a current account receivable on the books for more than one year as the Town was about to do. Oberman is not a CPA nor is St. Lawrence.
That receivable of more than $3 million is still listed on the 2013 Financial Statement of Ramapo, which gives the Town an inflated (read fraudulent) fund balance in its general fund, something Ms. Reimer complained to Ramapo officials about, including, on several occasions, to St. Lawrence himself.
In that same month, Nov 2009, Reimer was explicitly told by Mr. Oberman to no longer generate emails or memos regarding Ramapo’s financial information because those kind of documents could be obtained by others via a FOIL (Freedom of Information) request at the Clerk’s Office.
From 2010 through and including 2013, Ramapo was transferring money from the ambulance fund to the general fund without documentation. These transfers were not made as a loan, and, worse, they were done without board approval as is required by municipal law. Reimer complained to both St. Lawrence and Oberman, but neither took any action to correct the improper transfers which were draining one tax base to keep the lights on at Town Hall.
January 2011 St. Lawrence was planning to pay a supplier for playground equipment and accessories for two residents in Monsey. Reimer protested that St. Lawrence was about to make an illegal gift of taxpayer money. Attorney Michael Klein disingenuously claimed that the money for the playground equipment was actually for cutting down trees. Between January and August Reimer sent emails to several of the Defendants and other Town employees about the trees and playground equipment. On August 31, 2011, Reimer received vouchers signed by St. Lawrence for payment to Green Tree Woodworks to pay for the playground equipment. She refused to submit these vouchers to be paid because they were improper. At this point, St. Lawrence knew she was refusing to pay these vouchered bills.
Late Summer or Early Fall 2011 Reimer requested a copy of the April 15, 2011 Official Financial Statement of the RLDC. This document is available, by law, to any citizen who requests a copy. Because reviewing the RLDC’s Official Statement was not part of her job, she took the papers home to review them. After analyzing the numbers, Reimer told Aaron Troodler (Executive Director of the RLDC and Ramapo Town Attorney), Nathan Oberman, and other Ramapo employees that the Official Statement was fraudulent. The RLDC was overtly overestimating revenues to facilitate the sale of bonds. She reported to Ramapo that the RLDC was overestimating revenues by more than $32 million.
July 28 and Sept 23, 2011 Nathan Oberman provided Reimer with spreadsheets that listed charge backs for Ramapo. These charge backs were expenditures that Ramapo had paid out of the General Fund and were looking for reimbursement from other funds and tax bases that were not responsible for those charges. From approximately 2011 through 2013 Reimer made internal complaints about the improper charge backs explaining they were improper, and she expressly told St. Lawrence that this was shady and done without proper backup.
Also in 2011 In 2011, the Town paid for enhancements and assets for a ballfield property owned by the RLDC. Instead of showing the enhancements and assets for the ballfield as an asset for the RLDC on its records, they were improperly kept on the Town’s books, which served to hide the costs of the ballfield property from the taxpayers of Ramapo. Reimer complained about these enhancements and assets on the Town books explaining they should be reported as donations to the RLDC and removed from the Town’s assets. By keeping these on the Town’s books, she said, caused the Town to overstate its assets, and mislead stakeholders, including residents, investors, and banks. Emails and texts to St. Lawrence, Oberman, Troodler and Klein document her objections.
March 2012By March of 2012, Reimer was already speaking to the FBI regarding all the Defendant’s improper activities.
March 1, 2012 On March 1, an employee of O’Connor Davies, the auditors for Ramapo, informed Reimer that the employee was no longer allowed to send her (Reimer) emails about the assets for the ballfield. The employee told Reimer to instead speak with Mr. St. Lawrence or Oberman.
In early April 2012, Reimer was questioned by a person from O’Connor Davies as part of the process of filling out a questionnaire as part of the Town’s annual audit. Reimer provided her answers verbally, and in response to an inquiry, she indicated there was in fact fraudulent activity by the Ramapo officials and she questioned whether O’Connor Davies was also involved in those activities. Shortly thereafter, Domenick Consolo, an O’Connor Davies partner, came into Reimer’s office and screamed at her demanding to know why she made those statements to his employee and telling Reimer she had better change her answers.
In July 2012, Ramapo was reimbursing the RLDC for expenses erroneously alleged to have been incurred for attorney’s fees on behalf of Ramapo, with no backup.
July 13, 2012 Reimer explicitly informed Oberman this activity was improper.
July 17, 2012 Reimer wrote a memo to Oberman informing him that transfers made to the RLDC were improper because there was no backup.
August 3, 2012 Reimer told St. Lawrence that Ramapo financial activities were "shady" regarding a gift of taxpayer money to a local movie theater.
August 13, 2012 Reimer wrote to attorney Klein informing him that Ramapo’s bank information was being given out to non-finance employees.
August 28, 2012 Reimer signed a Town of Ramapo Employee Confidential Information Policy, but crossed out Paragraph 3 titled "Enforcement" which would have provided for her to be disciplined and sued for reporting improper activities to outside agencies. (The Executive Director of New York State’s Committee on Open Government at the Department of State told Preserve Ramapo that the policy is illegal and that the Town has no right to demand what is in its Confidentiality Policy. See:www.preserveramapo.org/Preserve Ramapo 2012/Ramapos_Confidentiality_Policy.htm )
September 2012 St. Lawrence asked Reimer to improperly move money from Ramapo’s Workers’ Compensation Fund to Ramapo’s General Fund, which she refused to do. Reimer then spoke with Oberman about the request and she asked him for something in writing saying that this was all right to do. In response, Oberman accused her of wanting to use the writing to show to a law enforcement agency to get him in trouble, and at that point it’s believed the Defendants suspected or knew that Ms. Reimer was cooperating with law enforcement regarding Ramapo’s and the RLDC’s activities, which was in fact true.
September 5, 2012 Reimer warned Oberman that she would not take responsibility for improper acts.
In September 2012 Reimer spoke to Beth Finkelstein (a Ramapo attorney) and informed her that she was being asked to do improper things, and she asked Finkelstein (as well as Deputy Town attorney Janice Gittelman—who was also present) what she should do. The two attorneys laughed and told her to quit her job.
In September 2012 Reimer attended a meeting with Oberman and Francis Hunter who was then the Town’s Deputy Supervisor. She told Oberman and Hunter that she was asked to move money without board approval, and she told both that this was improper.
October 12, 2012 Reimer informed Hunter that in a meeting with several Finance department employees, Oberman asked her to perform financial transactions that were improper.
October 23, 2012 Reimer told Oberman that giving fuel for free, which Ramapo had done, was improper. On that same day, through her attorney Gregory Kuczinski, she informed St. Lawrence that she was being subjected to a hostile work environment.
November 27, 2012 During a meeting, Oberman discussed Ramapo using NYSERDA grant money to cover payroll and Reimer informed him that that would be improper.
November 29, 2012 Once again Reimer cautioned Oberman that moving money without board approval is improper. On that same day, St. Lawrence threatened to write her up for insubordination because she said, "If I call you, will you answer the phone?"
December 21, 2012 Reimer is informed that Town attorneys would be interviewing her about a "complaint of misconduct."
January 16, 2013 A second "misconduct" interview with Ms. Reimer is held, at which Linda Condon is present.
January 24, 2013 Reimer sends an email to Environmental Capital, Ramapo’s fiscal adviser, with copies to St. Lawrence and Oberman, in which she states that she did not have the same fund balance information that Ramapo was depicting for Moody’s.
January 25, 2013 Supervisor St. Lawrence, with Reimer, Oberman and others present, had a phone conference with Moody’s during which St. Lawrence provided the ratings agency with incorrect fund balance information, despite Ms. Reimer having provided the correct fund balances to St. Lawrence earlier.
February 23, 2013 Reimer retains private counsel to defend against the charges that were to be investigated in a future disciplinary hearing.
Despite being served with a list of charges, all of which the plaintiffs maintain are false, Reimer continued to question and complain about the Defendants’ improper financial actions.
March 28, 2013 Reimer informed Ramapo that it was improperly moving money from Provident Bank to Capital One Bank with no competitive bids requested, and this caused Ramapo to earn lower interest and to incur higher banking costs.
April 9, 2013 Reimer again informed Ramapo that moving money without board approval is improper.
May 2, 2013 Judge William Sherwood, who has been hired to be the judge at Reimer’s upcoming Disciplinary Hearing donates money to the Friends of Christopher P. St. Lawrence—the Supervisor’s campaign fund.
May 15, 2013A large team of FBI Evidence Recovery Team serve a warrant at Ramapo Town Hall, and at around 4pm ask all but a few employees to clear the building as they execute a search and seizure of evidence that lasts until midnight.
May 28, 2013 Reimer is directed to appear for an investigative interview on June 4, and improperly, without legal authority to do so, Ramapo ordered her to give any audio recordings she had made to the Town Attorney’s office by May 31, 2013. She declined to comply with the improper order. Her attorney instructed her that Ramapo has no legal authority to demand discovery in a disciplinary proceeding.
On or About May 30, 2013a door slams on Ramapo’s desperate attempt to get the recordings as Reimer turns over two recording devices (iPhones) to the FBI.
June 7, 2013 Reimer receives notice from St. Lawrence that effective immediately she was placed on administrative leave and instructed to not report to work, to surrender her keys, and to remove nothing from Town Hall other than personal effects.
June 17, 2013 the Defendants sent a scathing, defamatory Press Release about Reimer and about things she was falsely alleged to have done. (See below)
Although Ms. Reimer is not mentioned by name in the Press Release, she was then the only suspended Finance Department employee and the only Finance Department employee facing charges. The details of those false charges had been the source of previous newspaper articles, in which Reimer was identified by name, allowing, therefore, the public to connect her to the person described in this Press Release.
Of the many misstatement of facts in the release, here are the most important:
This defamatory Press Release was concocted, no doubt, as part of a larger legal defensive tactic on the part of St. Lawrence, Klein and other defendants. It was an attempt to discredit a whistleblower and likely future federal witness who will be devastating in depositions and, ultimately, in the federal courtroom where the veracity of this group will be tested by a jury.
Paying the Help
In the lawsuit, the following incidental information establishes an insidious pattern:
Around Feb. 11, 2013 there was a workshop discussion before a Town Board meeting regarding a proposed sewer hookup at Linda Condon’s residence, which would apparently constitute an improper gift of taxpayer money, which the plaintiffs believe was a reward to Condon for her part in pursuing disciplinary charges against Reimer.
"On March 13, 2013, Police Officer Charles Edwards, who was to be a witness against Ms. Reimer in her disciplinary hearing, was promoted to Sergeant after a lengthy history of working as a police officer without a promotion."
"On May 2, 2b013, William Sherwood (who had been selected by St. Lawrence to be the hearing judge in Reimer’s first disciplinary hearing) donated money to the Friends of Christopher P. St. Lawrence."
May 13, 2013 Kathleen Ferrezzano, another Ramapo employee who was to be a witness against Reimer at her disciplinary hearing, was moved from a part-time to a full-time position.
"In July of 2013, Linda Condon, who played an active role in the prosecution of the charges against Ms. Reimer, and who testified against Ms. Reimer, was promoted to Personnel Administrator."
We have been told that civil lawsuits proceed more rapidly in Federal Court, so, hopefully, vindication for her courage and steadfastness in the midst of the widespread corruption at Town Hall will come soon for Melissa Reimer. As this action is played out before a jury, the residents of Ramapo should soon discover what they owe her.
But this is just the first shoe dropped. On a larger stage, the results will likely be more wide-ranging and consequential when the appropriate federal charges are filed in the FBI’s and SEC’s investigations. The curtain on the first act of that drama has already been raised in Spring Valley as we await the trial of Mayor Noramie Jasmin.
After the Jasmine and Malcolm Smith trials, next should come Ramapo. Expect to hear a question repeated by prosecutors again and again: "Mr. St. Lawrence, do you recognize the voices in the recording we have just played?" Reimer’s attorney, Fred Lichtmacher, tested this tactic in one of the disciplinary hearings with dramatic results—a near apoplectic Michael Klein, who had to be saved by the hearing judge Gelb from hearing what he said on the recording about truthfulness and one Mona Montal.
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