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Hummel's no-show case includes trips to casino

West Seneca's former town assessor is charged with spending much of his time at home or gambling in a Fort Erie, Ont., casino while he claimed to be working at Town Hall.

According to court papers, FBI agents secretly followed Edward J. Hummel on a number of occasions during times when he was supposed to be on duty.

Hummel, 57, resigned under pressure Sept. 16, several days after the FBI investigation into his activities became public.

Wednesday, a felony charge of transmission in foreign commerce of money obtained by fraud was filed against him in federal court. He was expected to appear today before Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.

"In layman's terms, he was signing in for hours that he wasn't actually working," said FBI Special Agent Paul M. Moskal, spokesman for the bureau's Buffalo office. "During those hours, he was often out of the country, gambling at a casino, or at home."

FBI agents said they learned that Hummel routinely drove up to the Fort Erie Race Track casino, withdrew cash there and played the slot machines during scheduled work hours. They alleged that during one three-month period in 2004, he spent more than one-fourth of his supposed working hours in Canada.

Records from the Peace Bridge and the E-ZPass system also were used to chart Hummel's trips, authorities said.

When agents interviewed people who worked under Hummel in West Seneca, one worker said he is "never there."

Another employee alleged that he "maybe works two hours a day," according to an affidavit signed by Special Agent Dianne E. Shaffer.

During a telephone interview Wednesday, Hummel denied any wrongdoing. He said he enjoys traveling to Fort Erie to play slots but does not believe he has a gambling problem.

Hummel, who controlled West Seneca's tax assessments for 23 years before resigning, said he often worked weekends and evenings to make up for time he missed during regular weekday work hours.

He said he believes that political enemies put the FBI up to investigating him.

"I've gone into work on Saturdays and Sundays, and in the evenings. Has [the FBI] indicated that?" Hummel said.

"I've worked not every Saturday, but mostly on Sundays. I figured it balanced out.

"This whole situation is unbelievable. It's cost me a great deal of money, and it's causing undue pressure on me, my family and my friends."

Hummel said that several town officials, including Supervisor Paul T. Clark, could vouch for the fact that he often worked weekends and evenings. Clark could not be reached to comment late Wednesday.

Hummel, who was appointed to his job in his early 20s, held one of the most powerful positions in West Seneca government for more than two decades. He had the sole discretion to determine the assessment values of 17,000 residential and commercial properties in the town.

Three months ago, authorities told The Buffalo News that the FBI was investigating Hummel's dealings with developers, including some who received major tax breaks.

Authorities also said the FBI was examining his time sheets to see if he was working the hours he claimed.

At more than $72,000 a year, Hummel was among the town's highest-paid public servants, and had been on sick leave for more than two months when he resigned.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski, who filed the charge against Hummel, would not speculate on whether any additional charges might be filed involving Hummel and developers.

He said an investigation was continuing.

The court statement filed by Shaffer tracked Hummel's travels to Canada during a 491-day period between January 2004 and May 7 of this year.

Shaffer said Hummel traveled to Canada on 84 days during that period.

On five occasions, Hummel used "leave time" for the trip to Canada, she said.

Shaffer estimated that Hummel spent a total of 330 hours, or 13.5 percent of his workweek, in Canada during the time period examined.

According to court papers, the FBI confronted Hummel in July at his West Seneca apartment and was told, "I'll admit, I've took time off and haven't marked it down."

The FBI said Hummel told them that he spent much more of his reported work hours at home than he ever spent at the casino.

"I should [have] got out many years ago," agents quoted Hummel as saying.

"I'll admit my work ethic has been brutal."

But Hummel defended his actions to The News on Wednesday. He said he has worked hard, served the town with honesty and never taken payoffs from developers.

Hummel added that he has often had to sell political fund-raising tickets to developers and others, and he believes that this practice caused some of his problems.

"It's just too bad that in order to keep your job, you have to do things like that. I've done it for 23 years," Hummel said.

He declined to identify anyone who allegedly pressured him to sell tickets. "I've said too much already," he said.

Hummel's attorney, John J. Molloy, could not be reached to comment.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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