An audit of the Niagara County Golf Course has revealed some 1997 course income was placed into a separate bank account controlled by then-Parks Commissioner Joseph B. Penale instead of into the county treasury.
Also, Penale's successor, Timothy R. Horanburg, said the audit had disclosed that no sales tax was collected on cart rentals or anything the pro shop sold last year, which was the first year the county ran the shop itself instead of hiring a golf pro.
As a result of the disclosures, Penale will not be brought back into the Parks Department in a deputy commissioner post created for him in January, after the Republican majority in the Legislature replaced him with Horanburg.
Majority Leader Shirley G. Urtel, R- Cambria, said, "I think it's fair to say we're not going to pursue hiring Mr. Penale, based on performance." She said a caucus of GOP legislators after Tuesday's Parks Committee meeting decided to leave the post vacant.
Proceeds from golf cart rentals and pro shop sales were placed into the bank account, which totaled $86,387.10, County Auditor Keith A. Lasher said at the committee meeting.
Lasher said only Penale or golf course account clerk Bruce Reynolds were able to make transactions on the account, set up at the Lockport branch of Marine Midland Bank. It was a public fund savings account titled "Niagara County Golf Shop."
Penale said he and then-parks chairman Wayne A. Lenhart, D-Pendleton, met last year with the county's chief accountant, Paul J. Roman, who told him to set up a separate account.
Roman said it seems to have been a misunderstanding. "I guess he thought I meant bank account. I meant a separate account in the treasurer's office." He said in government budgeting, a separate revenue line in the budget is also referred to as an account, and that's what he wanted set up.
Lasher also said some bills were paid out of the account by bank money order, without the knowledge of the treasurer's office.
However, several county officials said there is no evidence that Penale or Reynolds, who also lost his job in the party turnover, pocketed any of the money themselves.
"It does not appear (so) at this point," said Legislator Sean J. O'Connor, D-Niagara Falls, chairman of the committee. "The audit will continue."
County Attorney Edward P. Perlman, who said he had reviewed a preliminary report on the audit, said, "I don't think there's any money missing." Asked the same question, Horanburg said simply, "No."
Penale said he was never formally offered the deputy commissioner position. He said the audit was begun in February, the day before he was supposed to return to work.
"They're setting up witch hunts," Penale charged. "They're trying to justify the dismissal and they can't do it, and it's (ticking) them off. . . . I'm sure there's nothing wrong."
O'Connor and Perlman said the audit was begun as part of the party takeover.