Coventry voters grill selectmen

Featured

copyright the Chronicle February 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Early on a Saturday morning seems like an unlikely time to draw a crowd for an informational meeting with the select board.

But close to 30 people showed up at the community center here on February 18 for a public question and answer session about the recent audit and the town’s missing funds.

“I know there have been a lot of questions,” selectman Scott Morley said in his brief opening remarks, as early-rising residents sipped coffee or nibbled on doughnuts and muffins provided by the board.

Asking those questions now will prevent chaos at Town Meeting, he said.

For close to an hour and a half, the crowd peppered Mr. Morley and fellow selectman Brad Maxwell with questions and comments. Chairman Mike Marcotte wasn’t able to get to Saturday’s meeting but plans to be at the next two sessions.

The questions generally fell into three groups: the cost of the audit, why the problem had gone on for so many years, and what can be done about it.

Mr. Morley said he was uncomfortable with the word “embezzlement” that a number of people at the meeting used to describe the missing money.

“That hasn’t been proven,” he said several times. “We aren’t using those words.”

But after the meeting he acknowledged to people who asked that the State Police and the FBI are actively investigating the case.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Coventry Selectmen will air town’s problems

Featured

copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — The selectmen here are planning a series of public meetings over the next three weeks to talk with town voters about their problems with Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz, and their concern about missing town funds.

The idea is to let people ask questions and talk to the select board informally before the March 7 Town Meeting. The first meeting is planned for Saturday at 8 a.m.

An audit by Graham and Graham is the most recent in a series over the past 12 years that have identified missing money in Coventry. It’s the first to demonstrate that a significant number of cash tax payments were collected but never deposited.

The amount so far comes to about $64,000 over the two years covered by the audit. Previous auditors also believed that there were significant amounts of money missing.

“People have questions,” Selectman Scott Morley said at Monday night’s meeting. “And they want more of an open dialogue, more back and forth than they can have in a select board meeting. I think that’s legitimate.”

The Coventry voters in the back of the room on Monday night seemed to support the idea.

“What with fake news and all that, we don’t know what to believe,” said town resident Martha Sylvester.

Ms. Sylvester wasn’t the only one to urge the select board to go ahead with the public meetings.

“I think it’s going to put the board in better standing at the Town Meeting,” Skip Gosselin said.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Diaz pleads the Fifth, then testifies

Featured

copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Immediately after she took the witness stand in Orleans County Superior Court on Monday, Cynthia Diaz invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“Hadn’t you better hear the questions first?” Judge Howard VanBenthuysen asked Ms. Diaz, who appeared in court without an attorney. “Some of them might be to your benefit to answer.”

The Coventry town clerk, treasurer, and delinquent tax collector was back in court to answer a motion for contempt. It was filed on behalf of the town by attorney Paul Gillies after she allegedly failed to meet a December 30 deadline to turn over all original town documents in her possession.

Ms. Diaz brought a thumb drive and a foot-thick stack of papers to court on Monday but that didn’t even come close to being what the town of Coventry believes is missing.

After a lengthy recess to allow Mr. Gillies, forensic accountant Jeff Graham, and 
Coventry Selectman Scott Morley time to look over the documents, Mr. Gillies pronounced them “insufficient.”

“The missing records we asked for would fill a six-foot by six-foot square about six feet tall,” Mr. Graham told Judge VanBenthuysen, “not the small pile she brought to court today.”

“Are these all the town documents you have?” the judge asked Ms. Diaz.

“All the original town documents, yes,” Ms. Diaz replied, stressing the word “original.”

Judge VanBenthuysen ordered Ms. Diaz to hand over all town records in her possession, whether she considered them original or not.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Diaz ignores order to hand over documents and cash

Featured

copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Last Friday’s court-imposed deadline has come and gone, and so far Coventry Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz hasn’t turned over town documents that the select board and auditor Jeff Graham have been requesting over the past year. Nor has she complied with an order to provide full and complete financial records.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen gave Ms. Diaz until 4 p.m. on Friday, December 30, to deposit any town funds in her possession, to turn over documents, and to start keeping town financial records in accordance with standards laid out in the court order.

Ms. Diaz did deposit $7,433 in checks on Friday, but didn’t furnish any records to explain what the checks were, Mr. Graham said at Monday’s Coventry Select Board meeting. And he said the total doesn’t match financial reports that she handed to the board at the end of the week.

That report showed one $200 check deposited for the week.

None of the funds she deposited had anything to do with the more than $32,000 that Mr. Graham’s forensic audit has so far found to be missing. The missing money was all in cash.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Town of Coventry files civil complaint against Diaz

Featured

copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Attorney Paul Gillies has filed a civil complaint on the town’s behalf against Town Clerk, Treasurer and Delinquent Tax Collector Cynthia Diaz, based on the forensic audit report released by auditor Jeff Graham last week.

“And we expect to hear from the State Police and State’s Attorney very soon,” Mr. Graham said.

The board hopes to have information it can share with the public at its next meeting on the State Police investigation, Selectman Scott Morley said.

The civil complaint was filed in the Civil Division of Orleans County Superior Court, Mr. Gillies told the board at Monday night’s meeting.

Ms. Diaz should be served the papers by the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department within the next few days, he said — if she hasn’t been already.

The complaint alleges withholding documents from an audit and failure to comply with the laws that govern keeping public records.

It asks the court to require Ms. Diaz to hand over the records and documents that the select board and Mr. Graham have been requesting for over a year.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Coventry audit report will go to law enforcement

Featured

copyright the Chronicle December 14, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Copies of Graham & Graham’s long-awaited forensic report were handed around the room at Monday night’s select board meeting here.

The report covered not only the town money that’s believed to be missing, but also detailed 14 months of efforts by Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Delinquent Tax Collector Cynthia Diaz to keep the auditors from getting the documents they needed to do their jobs.

Because of those efforts to thwart the auditor, Ms. Diaz is ineligible to run for town office again, the report says.

This week, copies of the report will be forwarded to law enforcement and to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which insures Coventry against financial loss.

“We have personally witnessed, and discussed with others who witnessed at various times, the removal of town documents, records, files, computer thumb drives, vendor invoices, etc. by Cynthia Diaz,” the report says. “Upon discussion with Ms. Diaz, we believe she removed these items to one of the following locations: her residence, her residence/rental house, storage, lawyer’s office, and other unspecified locations.”

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe to the online edition below:

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

Print subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Diaz to bill town for delinquent tax collector’s fee

Featured

copyright the Chronicle November 16, 2016

 

by Elizabeth Trail

COVENTRY — There was largely stunned silence around the room Monday night when the select board read aloud part of a note from delinquent tax collector Cynthia Diaz.

The note said that Ms. Diaz plans to bill the town next week for the 8 percent penalty charged to four taxpayers whose late property taxes she collected recently.

That would be business as usual in most towns, but it came at the same time that the select board was hearing auditor Jeff Graham, who has been scrutinizing Coventry’s books, say that at least $26,000 in cash tax payments is known to be missing from the 2013 to 2015 tax years. And he said he expects the number will be higher.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

Print subscription

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Coventry Select Board votes to move investments before election

Featured

copyright the Chronicle November 9, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

The select board here voted Monday night to follow the recommendation of Louise Evans at Hunt Financial Services and move the town’s money into safer investments on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday is Election Day, and that played a part in Ms. Evans’ recommendation. The other part, she said, was her sense that the board isn’t sure which it values most: safety or a higher rate of return.

“Park it on the sidelines,” Ms. Evans said. “Be clear about what you want, and let the market settle.”

This year’s election, and the political drama surrounding it, is creating uncertainty in the market, she said, noting that the stock market dropped eight days in a row leading up to last Friday, something that hasn’t happened since the 1980s.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

Print subscription

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Coventry Fire District confronts arsenic in its water supply

Featured

copyright the Chronicle November 9, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

Water customers in Coventry village and some surrounding areas have been warned that they should avoid drinking unfiltered tap water.

The Coventry Fire District #1 (CFD) operates the public water supply, which serves about 60 homes, Coventry Village School, and public buildings. It got word from the state in September that the arsenic level in its well had gone over the legal limit of ten parts per billion.

The CFD immediately posted notices around town, told the select board and the school, and sent mailings out to users.

On November 3, about 40 people, most of them CFD water users, came to the Coventry Community Center to ask questions, express their opinions, and hear from state officials about what’s going to happen next.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

Print subscription

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share

Cash tax payments definitely missing in Coventry

Featured

copyright the Chronicle November 2, 2016

 

by Elizabeth Trail

COVENTRY — A Coventry resident who prides himself on being the first person to get his taxes paid every year also became the first person to prove he made cash tax payments that never made it to the bank, forensic accountant Jeff Graham told the select board at their meeting Monday night.

“He goes to the post office the day the tax bills come out every year,” Mr. Graham said. “He gets his bill, walks across the street, and pays his taxes. In cash.”

Letters sent out by the accounting firm Graham & Graham several weeks ago asked about 163 Coventry property owners to prove how they paid their taxes for 2013, 2014 and 2015 — when, how much, and whether they paid by check or cash.

The letters were mailed to everyone whose taxes are marked “paid” in the town office, if Mr. Graham couldn’t tie the payment to a deposit ticket, he explained before the letters went out.

To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

Print subscription

Annual online subscription

Short-term online subscription

(To find a particular article, search for the corresponding edition of the newspaper)

Share