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Chautauqua DA says he looking into reports of Ellery Court missing funds

A state audit that uncovered the possible theft of almost $64,000 in funds in the Ellery Town Court has triggered a criminal investigation, Chautauqua County District Attorney David W. Foley said Wednesday.

Foley confirmed that State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli sent him a copy of the audit of Ellery Town Court from Jan. 1, 2009 through last Aug. 6, which also disclosed that before Sharon Thompson was fired as court clerk more than a year ago, she had “misappropriated” court funds, and that Town Justices Lawrence Wallace and Randall L. Present had for years been failing to provide “proper oversight” of financial activity.

Foley said Wednesday that he is not yet prepared to accuse any current or former Ellery Court officials of criminal wrongdoing, and that the investigation could take some time.

DiNapoli reported that his audit had found that the five-member Ellery Town Board “did not perform or provide for” an annual audit of the justice’s records since July 2011. He also noted that between the beginning of 2009 and Aug. 6 the court had reported $636,000 in court-assessed fines, fees and surcharges, but $63,636 could not be property accounted for in court records.

The audit also noted that Thompson, before she was fired on Feb. 14, 2014, “controlled all aspects of the court’s cash collection, recording and reporting processes with minimal oversight, which allowed her to manipulate the financial records and apparently misappropriate funds.”

Asked about the audit’s finding that at the beginning of 2014 there were at least 1,015 unpaid traffic tickets in the Ellery Court files, Foley said that was the least of his concerns, adding that the drivers’ negligence would haunt them the next time they are stopped by police.