Members of the Whitehall town highway department have been filling their gas tanks with town fuel, according to an investigation compiled by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
The report, which was completed by investigating officer Anthony LeClaire, states that town highway superintendent Brian Rozell and town employee Robert Putorti both used fuel from the town fuel tanks in their personal cars while on town business. The report said Rozell claims to have used between 400 and 500 gallons, adding that he gave Putorti permission to use the gas pumps as well.
“All employees including Brian Rozell confirm that Mr. Putorti had permission to use said gasoline on the 2-3 occasions he did,” said that report. “Putorti advises that he has put DPW gasoline in his personal truck when using it for town business with Brian Rozell’s permission.
“No other employees report ever having taken any fuel or having seen anyone take fuel,” added the report.
“Brain was taking fuel in the neighborhood of 500 gallons in his own truck because he uses it as his work truck,” said Whitehall town supervisor Vernon Scribner.
“So far, we haven’t made any decisions,” said Scribner. “At the November board meeting we are going to make some changes.”
Scribner said that there was no policy in place at the town level for employees to use town-purchased gas in their private vehicles if they were using them for town business.
“We are going to look into changing the policy, especially for the highway superintendent position,” said Scribner. “We need to have a weekly reporting of the mileage and gas that the department is using.”
LeClaire said that the issue of a new system for reporting fuel usage came up when he interviewed Scribner.
“It was discussed that maybe an agreement should be reached on an exact amount of gas Brian could use on a weekly basis,” said LeClaire in the report.
Town councilman Daivd Waters sought to talk about the police report at the Monday town board budget meeting, but was turned down because the legal notice of the meeting stated that the lone purpose of the meeting was to discuss the 2009 preliminary budget.
“We can’t do anything that is not advertised,” said Scribner. “This was strictly for the budget, and that was how it was advertised, so that’s all we can do.”
“The newspaper knows about it,” said Waters. “I think we should be able to go over this.”
While Puroti was in attendance at the meeting, Rozell was not present, telling Scribner that he would not be there for the budget meeting.
The board called for a second budget meeting to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Pavilion town offices.
“At this time any other business that is brought up by the board will be discussed.
In the investigation, LeClaire interviewed Barry Lane, Louis Pratt II, James Shattuck, Putorti, Rozell, then provisional police chief Richard LaChapelle, town supervisor Vernon Scribner and Waters during the investigation. Waters filed the report with the sheriff’s department with the aid of the village police department.
“They did a good investigation,” said Waters. “It’s tough to prove if there was a theft or not because the suspects involved said that it was for the town and work.”
At the September town board meeting, Waters claimed that the town garage had used 1,300 more gallons of gasoline and over 2,000 more gallons of diesel fuel in 2008 than they used the previous year. According to LeClaire, the numbers Waters reported in the investigation were off.
“According to the printout the diesel fuel purchased… shows less fuel having been purchased so far for 2008 than all of 2007 not 2,156 gallons over last years consumption as reported,” said LeClaire in the report. “Robert Putorti measured the gas currently in the tank for me… Taking into account the increased usage for last winter, the mowing usage, current gas in the tank and mileage actually put on the gas powered vehicles it would appear that there might be less than 1,000 gallons unaccounted for.”
In the report, Rozell said that he may have used 400-to-500 gallons of gasoline from the town garage site since last fall while using it for work.
“Without a financial audit it is impossible to determine how much gas in actually missing,” said the report, adding later, “At this time there is no way to come up with an exact amount of gas that can be attributed to Brain’s usage other (than) his admission.”
In his interview, Rozell said that he did purchase gas for his truck at gas stations, “because he just doesn’t use his truck for town business.”
LeClaire said that members of the town crew told him they thought there was usage by Rozell.
“The employees all advise that Brian Rozell uses his own personal truck for work every day and does not utilize a town vehicle that he is entitled to,” said that report. “They believe(d) that Brian has been putting gas in his personal truck but that it might be justified because that is what he uses for Town Business.”
LeClaire stated in the report that he consulted with Washington County Sheriff Roger LeClaire and Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright as to whether the evidence should lead to criminal charges against Rozell.
“They advise that they don’t believe that Brian could be held criminally responsible for taking gas for use in his truck for town business,” said the report. “Unless it could be proven that he was taking gas and using for another purpose, they don’t believe this matter is criminal.”
The report states that the case is being referred back to the town for further action.
The town fuel investigation comes less than a year after the New York State Comptroller’s Office opened an investigation into the Whitehall town clerk’s office. That report found that former town clerk Janet Jillson “diverted” over $90,000 in town, county and state money. The investigation into that case by the Washington County District Attorney’s office and Whitehall Police Department has yet to close.