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Audit suggests conflict of interest involving Helfer

A former official at Community Charter School and an owner of a construction company may have been involved in a conflict of interest, according to an audit from the State Comptroller's Office.

The audit noted Kevin J. Helfer, the Edison Avenue school's former board president, could have benefited improperly from his position and that the school may have paid more than necessary for construction services from Lamparelli Construction Co.

Helfer, currently the commissioner of the City of Buffalo's division of parking enforcement, said in a telephone interview that there was nothing improper about the relationship.

"First of all, I think it's slanderous. I take pride in my reputation. They can come take a look at my business records. I have nothing to hide," he said. "You can ask every member of the board [that] I would never vote on anything that had to do with Lamparelli Construction, and I filed every single financial disclosure."

The audit examined Helfer's financial connections to Paul Lamparelli, an owner of Lamparelli Construction, which was paid $2.4 million since 2007 for construction work at the school.

The report noted that since January 2007, Helfer and Lamparelli also purchased seven houses for a total of $556,000 and sold five of them for $967,000. One of the properties purchased for $38,000 by Helfer and Lamparelli in August 2010 was sold to Helfer and an unidentified person with the same last name for $80,000 in January 2011, the audit noted.

During the same period, the construction company was being paid for a variety of capital projects and improvements to the school.

The board failed to determine whether the relationship resulted in a conflict of interest, as required, state officials said.

In addition, school officials did not use competitive bidding procedures for the construction work and did not produce a written contract that stated the scope of the work or the basis of payment.

Helfer resigned during the 2010-11 school year.

As part of the audit, an examiner from the State Comptroller's Office emailed Helfer last March with several points. One was to ask if he was a shareholder at Lamparelli Construction Co. and if he and Lamparelli are in business together to purchase houses.

Helfer replied "no" to both questions and added that he and Lamparelli purchased the houses as two individuals. Helfer also wrote that he did not believe he was on the board when the school hired Lamparelli Construction.

Another point addressed the fact there were no contracts between the school and the construction company defining the scope of the jobs and the terms. Helfer responded he didn't think he was on the board during that time, and if he was, it was not as president.

The examiner also asked Helfer the exact years he was on the school board, to which he replied he did not know.

The current president of the board of trustees, Carmen Iannaccone, was not available to comment.

Meanwhile, the board has prepared a response to the audit, which was included in the comptroller's report and signed by Iannaccone.

The board said it discussed the seven house transactions with Helfer, who maintained there was no conflict of interest.

The board also:

*Promised to be more diligent about the potential for conflict of interest and create a subcommittee to address and investigate possible conflicts and conduct a work session to stress the its importance.

*Said the school, despite the lack of competitive bidding, received fair value for the construction services, which included expansion of the bus loop. Board members also said they learned after the fact that quotes for the work were verbal -- not written.

*Promised that in the future, the board will employ bidding procedures for projects exceeding $20,000 -- also providing written documentation defining the scope of services, terms and conditions of payment.