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Village of Depew doing internal audit on recreation department accounts

The Village of Depew has begun an internal audit of its Recreation Department accounts after a former director became the center of an embezzlement probe involving the theft of donated money to the Depew Saints Hockey Club.

Mayor Steven P. Hoffman, a club coach for 22 years who also served as its president for eight years, went out of his way Monday night to address the topic at the beginning of the Village Board meeting.

At times, he read prepared remarks and also deviated from them, talking to the public for nearly the first 10 minutes of the meeting about Teresa Fusani. She has not been charged in connection to the investigation.

Fusani, a former village trustee and Planning Board member, was the village’s parks and recreation director from April 2011 to April 2012 before being replaced by Hoffman’s brother-in-law, James Cox, who currently serves in the position and worked for more than 20 years for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Fusani was first appointed to the part-time recreation post by the Village Board on Hoffman’s recommendation, soon after he took office as mayor two years ago. She was paid about $21,000 in the job that lasted only a year for her.

News broke last week that Fusani – whose husband, Frank, is a Depew police lieutenant on extended sick leave – is at the center of an embezzlement case tied to the hockey club of which she was a former treasurer from about 2004 to 2006. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is leading the investigation into what could be more than $100,000 in missing money that she is suspected of spending at area gambling venues and used to pay personal expenses. Her husband has said he is not a target of the investigation.

After recently learning of the allegations surrounding Teresa Fusani, Hoffman said he immediately directed an internal audit be done of all recreation accounts that Fusani could have had access to as the department’s director. That review is ongoing, and so far, no irregularities have been found, both he and Village Administrator Elizabeth Melock said.

“It does not appear anything is missing,” Melock said. “We have checks and balances in place.”

In prepared remarks, Hoffman, a retired Depew police officer, said he worked with Frank Fusani for years and praised him as an “outstanding cop.”

But Hoffman noted that he remains cautious.

“I spent enough time as a cop to be very cautious,” Hoffman said. “We are looking where funds could be missing, even outside this audit.”

Hoffman said he did not think it was necessary, at this point, to hire an outside auditor. If anything is determined to be suspicious, he said, he will ask the board to authorize a formal audit and review.

In an interview after the meeting, Hoffman said he never would have appointed Teresa Fusani as village recreation director had he known she may have had problems handling money.

During his remarks to the public and board, Hoffman went out of his way to note she was qualified for the recreation director position by meeting civil service requirements and also noted her longtime experience with youth hockey and baseball .

“After she was appointed, she had a learning curve as recreation director,” Hoffman said. But after about two-thirds of the way through her year as recreation director, Hoffman said, things weren’t going as he’d hoped.

When pressed for specifics afterward, the mayor did not elaborate.

“I felt she wasn’t living up to her opportunities and expectations ... Since she was let go, I have not spoken to her in any way, shape or form. That was her own judgment,” he said.

Hoffman said that Cox was the board’s last choice of four candidates for the post, which now pays $18,000 a year. Other candidates had conflicts with the position, given their other jobs, Hoffman said, leading them to appoint Cox, who he said is doing a “bang-up job” and cited improvements at the rink.

The mayor Monday also went out of his way to defend the Saints Hockey Club.

“None of us had any inkling of any stealing going on in 2005,” Hoffman said. “Looking back, the bookkeeping could have been better. But most of us were better coaches than we were CPAs.”

“The actions of one person should not affect the Saints, and I personally know the organization will get through this,” he said. “As a former president of the Saints, I understand everyone’s anger and share it, too.”