GREENWICH — More stringent policies have been put in place at the town’s Parking Services Department to eliminate the opportunity for malfeasance and cut down on the number of voided tickets, Town Hall officials said Friday.
Ron Lalli, a certified public accountant and former internal auditor and risk manager for the town, confirmed on Friday that parking employees had granted approximately $2 million in unauthorized voids of parking tickets given in town over a 10-year-period, a figure revealed in a forensic audit of the department.
The voids were the result of the criminal behavior of one former employee, lenient department policies that granted employees significant leeway in letting people off the hook for parking tickets, and human error, Lalli said.
Those policies are no more, Lalli said, as part of large-scale changes in the department that include an end to voiding practices, more stringent financial controls, better security and accountability, and automation and technological advances throughout municipal parking spots in town.
“We’re moving to a much more secure operational department that will employ best financial and operational practices for the town,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said. “Processes are now in place to avert the theft of town resources.”
Lalli has been working on contract with the town on an assessment of the department since January.
His report determined the department had been “troubled by a lack of responsibility in tracking and approvals” with 59,123 voids having been made between May 31, 2008 and May 31, 2018.
Lalli determined the generous voiding was a result of systemic problems.
“There was a very liberal policy in place by the department over very many years, “ Lalli said. “Assigned employees within the department were given the authority to process voids. They would do things like void tickets if it was the first time someone had gotten a ticket or if the permit tag had fallen off.”
To Lalli’s determination their actions did not constitute criminal behavior — outside of one employee. Rather they were acting in a culture designed to “make the department run more efficiently” instead of maximizing revenue collected for the town.
“The cashiers were given the authority to take care of problems at the cashier window so if someone came in screaming and yelling they could void the ticket,” Lalli said. “We’re totally different now. We’re much stauncher. There are some exceptions but not many.”
Lalli said the past practices “backfired” in part because they created a situation in which a criminal act occurred.
In April 2017, Parking Services employee Michael Gordon was arrested and charged with multiple crimes after what police called “an elaborate series of fraudulent transactions.” Gordon, who was working as an account clerk, allegedly misapplied credits for certain transactions to satisfy parking tickets that had already been paid in cash. He then allegedly kept the cash for himself.
Lalli said Gordon’s alleged acts contributed to the $2 million in unauthorized voids. It was not possible to determine if there was other malfeasance, he said, because of a lack of documentation, but he said he suspected the criminal activity was limited to Gordon based on his evaluation of the department.
Under the new policies, Lalli said it would be “almost impossible” for similar theft to happen again as all revenue streams coming into Parking Services have to be reconciled on a daily basis to independent data on software, which is checked on a daily and weekly basis.
“It’s probably in my humble opinion, because I know this better than anybody because I’ve been through every department, the most tightly controlled financial department in the town at this time,” Lalli said.
Human error also contributed to the voiding, Lalli said, result of parking services department employees accidentally typing in the wrong information when issuing a ticket and then voiding the ticket before starting over with the correct information.
The changes that have been implemented will keep this from happening again, Lalli said, because if incorrect information is typed in when writing out a ticket, the ticket can now be changed instead of voided.
“A lot of these voids never should have happened in the first place,” Lalli said.
Lalli reported that revenues in the Parking Services Department rose by 7.7 percent in fiscal year 2017-18, from $4,564,790 in 2016-17 to $4,917,421.
“It’s the strongest financial year in the department’s history,” Lalli said.
The town is close to signing a contract with an outside consulting firm to evaluate the Parking Services Department and offer recommendations about how it should be run.
Tesei and Lalli criticized the forensic audit, which came at a price of $152,703, saying it lacked conclusions and recommendations.
“They had no hard facts,” Lalli said.
“The (Board of Estimate and Taxation) chose to do that, I’m not going to sit here and debate that, that’s their authority and I have mine,” Tesei said. “But I do think when I found out just the other day that they spent $150,000 I was quite astonished.”
On Friday BET member David Weisbrod, chair of the board’s Audit Committee, said he did not want to comment at this time but said the audit would be discussed at the committee’s September 13 meeting.