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Ex-Kingston fire chief bilked city, DiNapoli says

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli appears in

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli appears in this file photo. (Jan. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

An audit by the state comptroller's office has found that the City of Kingston made improper payments totaling about $23,000 to employees for leave time they didn't earn, and the city's former fire chief has been charged in the case, officials said.

Ex-Fire Chief Richard Salzmann was arraigned in Kingston City Court on Thursday on four counts of misdemeanor offering a false instrument for filing, court officials said.

The probe, covered January 2010 to January 2012, found errors in 63 percent of the leave-time records it tested, said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, adding that five employees got $23,200 in payments they weren't entitled to.

DiNapoli found Salzmann was paid $5,558 more than he earned, and former Assistant Fire Chief Chris Rea received improper payouts of $16,656.

Kingston employees earn a fixed number of personal, sick and vacation days each year, DiNapoli said. They are paid for accumulated leave time, either in a lump sum when they depart or periodically if unused leave can't be carried over to future years.

Auditors reviewed a sampling of city work records and found that leave accruals were overstated by 102 days for 35 employees and understated by 21 days for 18 workers. As a result of the ongoing investigation, the comptroller's office expanded the audit back to the beginning of 2010 to include Salzmann and Rea, officials said.

Salzmann routinely kept track of his own leave-time records in the Fire Department's log book, and Rea did so on occasion, DiNapoli noted. Salzmann submitted records for 2011 to the city comptroller that contained multiple discrepancies, and he did not record all the vacation time he used during the audit period, DiNapoli said.

The case began to unravel in 2011 when Kingston city Comptroller John Tuey noticed irregularities in Salzmann's time sheets, Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright said. Tuey felt Salzmann had failed to properly account for the payout of seven vacation days more than he was entitled to, Carnright said.

"Instead of simply acknowledging the errors in the time log he had submitted, we believe Chief Salzmann altered and resubmitted his vacation accrual log for 2011," Carnright said.

He said Salzmann acknowledged the overpayment for the seven days. "However, we believe he also altered his records by 'discovering' that he had claimed seven vacation days when he was not actually on vacation and now sought to be compensated ... In short, the resubmitted payment logs netted out to zero," Carnright said.

A criminal investigation of Rea is ongoing, Carnright said, but as to the other three overcompensated workers, "there is no indcation of any criminality" and no charges will be filed.

As far as restitution, Carnright said his office will be involved in recovery efforts regarding the allegedly criminal portion of Salzmann's overpayment (about $3,100, according to DiNapoli's audit). The city will have to decide whether to seek restitution from the three cleared workers, and Rea's case is pending, he said.

"These errors occurred because the city had lax processes and relied on unverified, incomplete and inaccurate records," DiNapoli said in a statement. He credited Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo for detecting irregularities and bringing them to his attention. The comptroller also made a series of recommendations to the city for tightening up its bookkeeping and oversight.

The alleged Fire Department irregularities occurred before Gallo took office in January 2012.

Salzmann, 59, was chief for 14 years before his retirement in January 2012. Rea, 50, has been suspended from the department, the Kingston Daily Freeman reported.

With a population of about 24,000 people, Kingston in 2011 had 364 city employees and a $17.6 million payroll, DiNapoli said.

In an earlier audit, the comptroller's office found the city may have overpaid $7,790 to Police Department employees for time they didn't work. A Kingston police detective, Tim Matthews, was convicted of second-degree grand larceny and sentenced to state prison, Carnright said.

Salzmann was released on his own recognizance after appearing before Judge Lawrence Ball and is slated to return to court Feb. 28. He faces up to a year in jail on each of the four counts, if convicted.

A call to Salzmann's attorney, Paul Gruner, were not immediately returned Thursday.

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