New Rochelle City Manager Charles B. Strome, III today offered a full-throated defense of Finance Commissioner Howard Ratner and the City's Independent Auditor, Bennett Kielson Storch DeSantis, a division of O'Connor. Davies Munn & Dobbins.
Strome, reading from a prepared statement moments after a press conference held by City Council Members calling for a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney, stated "the District Attorney has advised us that the investigation of this matter is closed and that no other City employees are suspected of misconduct."
The Westchester County District Attorney's office flatly contradicted Strome's characterization of the status of the investigation as "closed" or that no other employees are "suspected of misconduct". The Westchester County District Attorney indicated the case is being treated as a pending criminal matter so that the investigation is not closed nor have any definitive conclusions been reached about any particular individual including Fevang.
"I am not going to discuss an open criminal case," said Westchester County District Attorney Spokesman Lucian Chalfen. "This investigation is part of a pending criminal matter".
New Rochelle City Council Members Louis Trangucci, Albert Tarantino and Richard St. Paul have called for an independent audit of City finances and a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney in the wake of criminal fraud charges against Richard Fevang, former DPW Fleet Manager now facing a 66 count criminal indictment for fraud.
Strome described New Rochelle City government as "an open book" and stated "we are not afraid of any review by any authority."
Strome repeatedly stressed that the City is regularly audited by an Independent Auditor, as well as federal auditors noting "for over 20 years no financial irregularities have been found.”
Strome declined to comment on the irony of his defense of the auditing prowess of the City Finance Commissioner and Independent Auditor during a press conference convened to discuss a 66 count indictment for fraud, spanning six years, that went undetected by Howard Ratner and Bennett Kielson and only came to light after a garage mechanic came forward with evidence that Fevang was submitting invoices for work that was never performed.
The full copy of Strome's remarks are printed below.
June 29, 2011
Statement by City Manager Charles B. Strome, III
“I do not ordinarily comment on matters of this kind but I cannot allow the statements and implications made this morning go unanswered.
The entire City Council has known about this matter for months and not one member has ever suggested any additional administrative, legal or investigative action. The City Council is aware that the City Administration cooperated fully and completely with the District Attorney.
The City Council is aware that the Administration takes matters of ethical misconduct very seriously and is always prepared to take strong disciplinary action whenever and wherever such misconduct is discovered. Most importantly, the City Council is fully aware that we withheld disciplinary action in this matter at the suggestion of the District Attorney and the entire City Council agreed to that course of action.
The City Council is fully aware that the charges here concern only a single municipal employee in the Department of Public Works. In fact, the District Attorney has advised us that the investigation of this matter is closed and that no other City employees are suspected of misconduct.
I am extremely proud of the professionalism of the men and women with whom I work, and I will stake their ethics against anyone’s. New Rochelle’s City government is an open book. Our meetings, budgets and auditors reports are and have always been available to the public and we are not afraid of any review by any authority.
For anyone to imply that a federal investigation is required without the presentation of any evidence impugns the integrity of hundreds of honest individuals who work hard every day to serve our City. The City’s use of federal funds is regularly audited by our independent auditors and has also been audited by federal auditors. And, for over 20 years no financial irregularities have been found.”