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No criminal charges in deletion of 400 files in Cheektowaga Town Clerk's office

A former Cheektowaga Town Clerk was cleared by county prosecutors this month of any wrongdoing after more than 400 electronic files were deleted from her town-issued computer late last year just before leaving office.

The deleted files included balancing worksheets and correspondence from the computer used by Alice Magierski, who left office after a failed bid for town supervisor. When Magierski's former deputy, Vickie L. Dankowski, took office in January, she said she discovered needed files were missing.

The spreadsheets are used for school and county tax collection reports and monthly and end-of-year town clerk balancing reports, Dankowski explained.

"Obviously as a courtesy, one clerk to another, you would flow them over to the next person so they would be able to use them," Dankowski said. "Well, I had nothing."

Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski said after learning about the missing files she handed the matter over to the Police Department and the Erie County District Attorney's office, which closed its investigation this month without any charges.

"There is insufficient evidence at this time to pursue any criminal prosecution concerning the deletion of certain Town Clerk files in December 2015," Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. wrote in an Oct. 11 letter to Dankowski. The letter was obtained by The Buffalo News under the Freedom of Information Law.

Magierski, who is running for Town Board in the Nov. 8 elections, maintains that all official reports are generated by the town's accounting software and nothing was deleted from her computer that didn't also have a paper copy.

"I cleared what was on my computer because I was leaving," she said. "All the hard copies were there."

Dankowski and Benczkowski see things differently.

"Those records were crucial," Benczkowski said. "They were all town property."

The supervisor said she was disappointed in the decision by the district attorney's office.

Lisa Marie Bolognese, the town's director of information technology and records management, and another town employee were brought in to retrieve the deleted records. Bolognese said she found them in the recycle bin of the hard drive of Magierski's computer, and in the deleted file section of the town's server.

Magierski last year lost a Democratic primary for supervisor to Benczkowski in the town where the party is split into factions. Dankowski supported Benczkowski's campaign.

Dankowski called Magierski's actions "unethical" and "deliberate" and said she believed it may have been in retaliation for her support for Benczkowski. Magierski denied intentionally deleting records to frustrate her successor.

Magierski added that the spreadsheets were her own personal way of checking for discrepancies against the town's official reports, but that she had shared the method with Dankowski earlier in 2015.

"It was my way of checking what was going on," Magierski said. "It wasn't anything I could just leave and somebody would know what to do with."

Magierski, who served two terms as town clerk from 2008 to 2015, is attempting a return to public office. She narrowly won a Democratic primary in September for a vacant Town Board seat after absentee ballots were counted, and she faces a Republican opponent on Election Day.

The Cheektowaga case follows a similar one in Grand Island in which thousands of files were deleted from a town server late last year at the end of former Supervisor Mary S. Cooke’s term.

After the files were restored, current Supervisor Nathan McMurray said he urged the District Attorney's office not to pursue the case, which has also been closed. As a result, the Grand Island Town Board late last month adopted a policy stating that --  with limited exceptions -- documents created in the course of town work are town property and should be preserved, McMurray said.

 

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