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Part-timer fired in embezzlement case

A part-time Amherst town employee has been fired after town and police officials accused him of embezzling $2,760 in town fees from the Recreation Department.

Kevin M. Freiheit, 21, was arrested on charges of grand larceny and falsifying business records. He was fired Aug. 20, though Town Board members said they were unaware of the investigation and the subsequent arrest until last week.

Supervisor Satish B. Mohan said this is the first instance during his tenure that he recalls an employee being fired on theft charges. He issued a statement on Freiheit's termination after the recreation director and the police chief apprised the board of the matter Sept. 8 in a closed session.

In a report to the board, Recreation Director Anne E. Schiferle said Freiheit apparently was issuing golf course season passes and discount cards to residents but recording them in the computer as resident recreation identification cards.

The season passes and discount cards range in price from $50 to $350, but the resident recreation ID cards cost only $5.

According to a report from an internal investigation by the town, Freiheit found a way to manipulate the computer program for Recreation Department transactions so that cash-paying customers could be issued the pass card they they were seeking, but the program would ultimately record the transaction as a $5 ID card purchase.

Freiheit allegedly pocketed the difference. He declined to comment for the story.

The Recreation Department computer program has since been upgraded to prevent similar abuses.

Discrepancies first came to light July 16 when a resident came in asking for replacement youth season passes for her children, who had lost their original cards, according to the town report.

Subsequent investigation showed that from March to early July, during times when Freiheit was working, the town logged the purchase of 20 ID cards when patrons had handed over cash for much more expensive passes.

After a police interview with Freiheit on Aug. 20, Schiferle fired the employee.

Mohan, the human resources director and some Town Board members subsequently expressed deep concern that they were not told sooner about the criminal investigation, and that Freiheit was fired before higher-ups were notified.

"My policy is that the people must know how their money is spent, or not spent, or is being misused," Mohan said.

Schiferle said she was exercising caution in trying to verify the theft first and did bring the matter to the police's attention. But she also faced heavy criticism for her actions and said that if similar situations occurred in the future, she would make sure to keep the supervisor in the loop early on.

Police officials did not return calls by The Buffalo News last week seeking confirmation of the arrest.

Mohan and Human Resources Director Robert P. McCarthy said the town would develop new policies to ensure that word of future criminal investigations involving town employees is communicated with other top town officials.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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