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State audit criticizes spending at West Seneca fire district; former treasurer pleads guilty to theft

Lax financial oversight in West Seneca Fire District No. 6 resulted in a criminal charge against its former treasurer, who pleaded guilty last week to a charge of petit larceny, according to an audit by the state comptroller’s office.

The audit found that the fire district paid more than $4,800 for internet, telephone and cable television services at Diane Nowicki’s home from January 2009 to April 2012. She also inappropriately paid herself $750, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reported.

Nowicki pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, filed by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, last Thursday in Orchard Park Town Court. She has repaid $1,635, according to District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

The five-member Board of Fire Commissioners replaced Nowicki in March, but had agreed to retain her, with pay, during the transition.

“The fire district treasurer blatantly abused her position and misused taxpayer dollars,” DiNapoli said. “But her actions and other questionable spending occurred because district officials were lax in their oversight.”

The audit covered the period from January 2009 through November 2012. It found more than $59,000 in payments – most of them purchases made with district credit cards – that appeared “questionable, improper or unnecessary.” Among them were charges totaling $1,647 for lodging at local hotels and $1,089 for airline tickets for the wives of two commissioners.

Further, the audit revealed that the district failed to claim more than $120,000 in grant money that it was awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

DiNapoli noted that in early 2011, before the audit fieldwork commenced, the district determined that a commissioner was improperly using a credit card for personal expenses during 2010. The unidentified commissioner was required to repay more than $2,000 and to resign.

In April, the Board of Fire Commissioners responded to the audit in a nine-page letter that included a corrective action plan addressing 17 recommendations made in the audit report.

In the board’s response, Chairman David Klawitter wrote,: “Our immediate Board actions will solidify the trust that our residents have placed in us to properly manage the resources placed under our control.”