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Law violations by Water Authority may not amount to crimes

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn has asked his Special Investigations and Prosecutions Bureau to investigate whether any crimes were committed at the Erie County Water Authority.

Flynn's announcement Wednesday follows a scathing state report about the authority.

"Anytime there is an allegation of criminal wrongdoing, obviously I have an obligation to investigate it," Flynn told The News.

But initial conversations with the Authorities Budget Office, which produced the report alleging violations of law, indicate that none of those violations are criminally prosecutable.

The Special Investigations Bureau investigates matters of public integrity. Bureau Chief Candace Vogel was asked to follow up on a detailed report Tuesday by the ABO outlining transparency and operational violations that transpired primarily in 2016 and 2017. The agency accused Water Authority commissioners of repeatedly breaking laws and best practices regarding openness, transparency and independent oversight and governance of the agency during a two-year period.

Vogel contacted the director and assistant director of the Authorities Budget Office today and was told that the state agency did not find evidence of criminal violations, Flynn said. But he is directing the bureau to take a second look at the report.

He said some violations of law outlined in the state report, such as failure to adhere to the requirements of the state's Freedom of Information Law, would not amount to criminal charges, only civil penalties, which fall outside his purview.

Though the ABO indicated a failure to follow proper spending and procurement policies, the agency did not indicate these role to the level of criminal violations, Flynn said.

As a result of its report findings, the Authorities Budget Office censured the Erie County Water Authority and asked the County Legislature to remove from office all commissioners serving in 2016 and 2017. Two prior Republican commissioners who served during that time, Robert Anderson and Karl Simmeth Jr., have already left the three-member board, leaving only Democrat Jerome Schad, who serves as board chairman.

The ABO recommends that the county Legislature fire him, and several legislators said Tuesday they will either recommend Schad's termination and/or explore how to turn the authority into a county department.

Schad responded that he and new board member Mark Carney have worked hard to address all the recommendations in the report and pointed out that the board has already instituted many new procedures and practices to make meetings more open and agency operations more transparent.

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