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Investigation continues after officials' arrests



Published: Thu, April 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Other arrests may be made in the case, a detective said.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

and DENISE DICK

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Misdemeanor charges against the city auditor have no merit, a defense attorney says.

Samuel Bluedorn, who is representing city Auditor David Griffing, said his client did not commit any crime.

Griffing, 47, of Willard Street, pleaded innocent Wednesday afternoon in the municipal courtroom of Judge Thomas Gysegem to two charges of dereliction of duty. He was released on a $2,500 bond. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for May 30.

"My client wants to get this over with as soon as possible, so we are not going to sign a time waiver, which means this case must be tried within 90 days," Bluedorn said. "I believe he will be acquitted."

Griffing and his brother, Richard, 48, of Tod Avenue, were arrested on the same charge Wednesday afternoon. Richard Griffing, manager of the water department, also pleaded innocent and was freed after posting a $2,500 bond. He, too, is scheduled to return to court May 30.

Richard Griffing and his attorney, Phil Vigoritto, declined to comment.

Detective Jeff Hoolihan said the two men are accused of failing to make sure daily bank deposits were made.

"The city lost thousands of dollars in interest by not making sure those deposits were made on time, and city officials are always the ones complaining about money," Hoolihan said.

How this was handled

The charges were filed by Bob Johnson, Girard city prosecutor, who is serving as acting prosecutor in this case. Johnson was unable to attend Wednesday's hearing. Traci Timko-Rose, Warren city prosecutor, filled in for him during the arraignments.

Johnson, who was contacted last week by Warren law director Greg Hicks about taking the case, said later that Bluedorn's comment about the case's having no merit is a knee-jerk reaction of a lawyer representing his client.

"He may change his mind after he sees what we have," Johnson said. "I never would have authorized charges unless I believed it was a strong case."

FBI agents and city police have been investigating the department for about a year.

Hoolihan said other arrests may be pending. He said he believes a grand jury will convene shortly to consider the matter. He declined to give any specifics.

In June, the state auditor's office issued a finding for recovery of $26,036 against Debra Dunewood, the water department's former head cashier. She has not been charged with a crime. She was approved for a disability retirement Feb. 13, 2001.

Authorities have said they are investigating whether a possible scam to divert funds was under way at the water department.

Dunewood sometimes delayed depositing money, according to the audit. That shows & quot;a potential lapping scheme & quot; to divert cash and delay deposits until & quot;sufficient subsequent receipts are accumulated to cover the amount diverted, & quot; the audit says.

What's been done

At a city council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Hank Angelo said he wanted to assure city residents that since the money was discovered missing, procedures have been implemented to address what occurred. He also said the money has been recovered through the bonding company.

Angelo also announced that Bob Davis has been appointed director of the water department. Davis has been interim director for several months.

After the meeting, Angelo said he met with investigators on the case Wednesday. He said he has sought legal counsel but declined to identify the attorney. Angelo said because Hicks has recused himself from the case, it's prudent to have an attorney present to address legal issues that arise.

Richard Griffing was suspended without pay for a few days after being found guilty of gross neglect of duty, dishonesty and nonfeasance regarding the missing money.

He is responsible for overseeing collections and deposits and enforcing a policy that money is to be deposited within 24 hours. The city determined he did not enforce that rule between April 3 and May 1.




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