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Employee expenses examined

October 4, 2018

STAMFORD — An audit triggered by the arrest of a city supervisor for stealing $60,600 from the marina fund is about halfway complete.

A week after Sean Elumba pleaded guilty to felony first-degree larceny, the city still is examining accounts employees use to purchase materials and equipment for their departments, and how Human Resources screens, interviews, ranks and hires job candidates.

Internal Auditor Teresa Viscariello, who began the review in July, has told members of the Board of Finance that she is in the middle of examining purchase orders and invoices from stores where employees are authorized to buy supplies.

She is examining who signed invoices, who approved them, and who entered them into the system, Viscariello told members of the board’s Audit Committee at their September meeting.

The work takes time because Viscariello is visiting the marinas to verify that purchased items are there. If, for example, she finds an invoice for a large amount of wood purchased to repair a dock, she wants to see the stack or the newly installed planks.

But information on the invoices isn’t always helpful, Viscariello said. Sometimes all she has to go on is a barcode.

“I don’t always know what the equipment that was purchased looks like … I am working with marina staff to help me identify items,” she told the committee.

Items include things as large as a generator and as small as a battery for a power screwdriver, she said.

Board member David Kooris, head of the Audit Committee, asked whether the city should require that vendors provide better descriptions on invoices. That may end up as one of her recommendations, Viscariello said.

Hiring know-how

Elumba, the 43-year-old former marina supervisor, used a city card to make numerous fraudulent purchases then sold or kept the items. The Stamford man was authorized to use the card to buy materials needed for marina repairs. City marinas are self-funded by yearly dock fees and ramp permits; the budget this fiscal year is $374,000.

Viscariello said her audit — which covers 2013, when Elumba was hired, through this year —has a way to go. She hasn’t yet begun reviewing hiring practices, she said.

That will be the aspect of most significance, said longtime finance board member Mary Lou Rinaldi, retired from a 40-year career in human resources.

“It’s about the hiring practices because, if we get that right, we’re not going to have these issues,” Rinaldi said.

It’s a reference to Elumba’s history before the city gave him the job.

He was arrested twice. In 2010, Stamford police charged him with driving under the influence, interfering with an officer, evading responsibility and creating a public disturbance. In 2011, police in Harrison, N.Y., charged him with driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance.

“The board was told that the city can’t discriminate against people who’ve been arrested,” Rinaldi said. “But can’t we find enough law-abiding citizens who want these jobs?”

Elumba’s fraudulent purchases were not discovered until March, when his boss, the parks and facilities manager, learned about his arrest that month in Ansonia on a charge of patronizing a prostitute.

“This audit may show how this person did the deed, but it’s more important to see how he got hired in the first place,” Rinaldi said. “If we did a better job of screening candidates, perhaps we wouldn’t periodically have these incidences.”

A very bad year

Board of Finance member Sal Gabriele raised that point during the meeting, citing 2010, notorious for municipal theft in Stamford.

That year a clerical worker was charged with stealing $16,000 from a housing fund; a human resources specialist was arrested for taking $350,000 from an employee tuition reimbursement fund; and an accountant was found to have embezzled $21,000.

It was revealed that year a Board of Education clerk was made to repay $4,600 in unauthorized vacation time she’d given herself, but school officials did not audit her transactions, even though she accessed the payroll system, with little supervision, for many years.

But the case that made the most headlines in 2010 resulted in no arrests, despite two police investigations and a $150,000 audit by a private firm. It was alleged that employees of the Office of Operations were taking snow plows and other city property, selling it to scrap-metal dealers, and pocketing the cash. The state’s attorney decided not to prosecute, even though some employees admitted they scrapped metals for cash, because it was a longstanding practice and the city had not established clear policies against it.

Only the human resources specialist did jail time in the 2010 cases. The rest, like Elumba, just repaid what they took.

A boat’s worth

As part of Elumba’s plea agreement, the city accepted his boat as restitution, estimating its value at roughly $60,000, the amount he stole.

“If it turns out the boat is not worth that, or additional losses are discovered, he is to make full restitution to the city as a condition of his probation,” said Legal Affairs Director Kathryn Emmett, who oversees Human Resources.

Elumba, who earned $75,535 last year, can never again work for the city. He did not have a pension, Emmett said.

“He wasn’t employed by the city long enough to earn a pension,” she said. “Under federal law, he will be returned whatever amount he contributed toward it each week.”

He also is not entitled to health benefits, Emmett said.

Rinaldi said she is concerned that the plea agreement precedes the audit results.

“If all he has is the boat, what recourse does the city have? Suppose the audit finds that another $50,000 was taken?” she said. “I would have liked to see it remain open until it can be assured he can cover all the city’s losses.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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