A senior buildings and grounds employee for the Town of Hamburg who has extensive political and community connections is accused of stealing town property for personal use, months after he avoided losing his job over charges of workplace misconduct, Town Supervisor James Shaw told The Buffalo News.
Raymond Pawlowski, a working crew chief who oversees the town's facilities, was charged with two misdemeanors for theft and criminal possession of stolen property after turning himself in Tuesday at the State Police barracks in Boston, Shaw said.
"He did it to avoid being arrested at work," Shaw said.
Pawlowski must return to Hamburg Town Court Sept. 18. He is on unpaid administrative leave from the Highway Department, which includes buildings and grounds, pending a hearing on Sept. 19 to further settle Pawlowski's status.
Shaw said other employees in Pawlowski's department reported seeing him use town equipment, including an ATV-like Gator utility vehicle, for recreational purposes on private property near his home.
Shaw said he and Highway Superintendent Tom Casey informed town police. Shaw said someone might have directly contacted State Police as well.
Hamburg Police Capt. Kevin Trask said State Police have been in charge of this case from the beginning.
Pawlowski oversees maintenance at town facilities including Town Hall, the Senior Center and Woodlawn Beach State Park, which is operated by the town through an agreement with the state.
State Police and Casey did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment late Wednesday morning.
Shaw said the town fired Pawlowski last year, in response to allegations that he intimidated at least one fellow employee, that he didn't perform work as instructed by his superior and that he defied an order from then-Highway Superintendent Tom Best Sr.
The supervisor said Pawlowski fought to keep his job through an administrative process.
Shaw and town officials – following a hearing that included Pawlowski's union representative and the town's human resources officer – ultimately decided to suspend him for 60 days, without pay, but agreed to a discharge of the suspension on condition he didn't get into further trouble over a one-year period between roughly February 2018 and February 2019.
"I'm going to reserve judgment, because I want to give the gentleman all of the presumption of innocence that he is entitled to. I want to make sure that next week's hearing is objective," Shaw said.
He said Casey was in the process of asking the Erie County Comptroller's Office to conduct an audit of the town's highway equipment.
"By the same token, if he is in fact involved in possessing stolen property or stealing property, I'm going to take it very seriously – particularly in light of his past record," Shaw said.
Pawlowski, who has served as chairman of the town Conservative Committee and as fire chief of Big Tree Volunteer Fire Company, is no stranger to controversy.
While serving as Big Tree's chief, Pawlowski and another firefighter engaged in a lengthy, costly battle to prove they were innocent of charges that they excessively billed the fire department for gasoline.
As chief, Pawlowski was entitled to a fire company car. He also was entitled to free gasoline, but just how much was the subject of the dispute. Its resolution could not immediately be determined Wednesday.
Also, in 1998, Pawlowski was driving a town trailer when it struck a railroad overpass, dislodging a highway paving machine and causing it to crash onto another vehicle, killing the driver. Pawlowski was ticketed, but not criminally charged, in the accident and the town later settled with the family of Karen Kolpack Krent.