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Board accused of fraud over spending at conference

In the past few months, critics of the Evans Town Board have accused its members of abusing the public's trust. On Wednesday night, they moved on to fraud allegations.

Bob Doering accused the board of breaching public trust during its trip to the Association of Towns meeting last year, saying it overcharged the town. Doering is a federal retiree who said he worked with ethics oversight during his 39-year government career.

"In one five-day session, several thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted," Doering said. "I'm not afraid to use the word fraud."

Doering, who based his accusations on receipts acquired through Freedom of Information requests, accused the board of paying for friends' and family members' meals while in New York City in February 2005 for the annual conference.

Among his charges were that the six officials, for one dinner there, presented a bill for $579, when the highest priced meal on the menu was $24.

Another example he gave was a receipt for a $41 Lindy's cheese cake purchased the afternoon the town's representatives were leaving.

Doering also accused Supervisor Robert Catalino II of taking $95 in per diem for food on the final day of the conference, when Catalino left New York after breakfast.

When Catalino responded that town allotment for officials at the conference was a per diem and that no receipts were required, Doering said that was only true to the Internal Revenue Service allowance, which was $51 last year. Doering said anything over that should have been reported to the IRS as income.

Councilwoman Karen Connors Erickson defended the board, saying, "I'm sure if there is an audit, you will see there is no abuse and no fraud. I am offended by [the allegations], and I cannot just sit here and hear that."

Catalino likewise said he welcomed an audit and accused the board's critics of costing Evans well over $100,000 in its handling of their Freedom of Information requests over the past three years.

Doering said he plans to send his report to the State Comptroller's Bureau of Investigations next week. He asked the board to consider appointing the equivalent of a federal inspector general -- what he called a "town watchdog" -- to keep an eye on spending.

He also suggested that all of the Evans officials at the February 2005 Association of Towns conference resign.

None seemed interested in the suggestion, although Councilman Joseph Govenettio did announce he was resigning his position after 7 1/2 years on the board. He'll be stepping down at the start of April.

Govenettio said he made the decision mainly because it had become harder to balance his family life and his job as a plant manager for Dimar Manufacturing in Clarence with serving as a councilman.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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