WARREN Changes planned for water office
The water department director left on sick leave in November, and nobody knows when he'll return.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
and AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Amid a continuing probe, the city water department director has left on sick leave, and the mayor says he plans to make personnel changes at the troubled office.
FBI agents and city police have been investigating the department for about a year. No arrests have been made, but law enforcement officials say the case is continuing.
"There has been trouble at the department for years, and it is going to take time to investigate," said Detective Jeff Hoolihan, who is working on the investigation.
On leave: In November, Manuel Michelakis, water department director, left on sick leave. City officials have declined to give specific information on his illness and say they do not know when he'll return to work.
Mayor Hank Angelo said last week he's going to make personnel changes in the water department. He declined to give specifics, saying he wants to share his plan with council first.
City officials say the department's former head cashier, Debra Dunewood, was approved for a disability retirement Feb. 13.
Audit: In June, the state auditor's office issued a finding for recovery of $26,036 against her, but she hasn't been charged with a crime.
The city is attempting to have the money paid back from an insurance company that bonds city employees. The city holds a blanket dishonesty bond for all city officials. There is a $50,000 limit.
According to the audit, the bond amount is inadequate because seven out of 20 days of operations reviewed had collections at the water department that exceeded the amount of bond coverage. The collections ranged from $1,646 to $276,530. The audit recommends that the city bond cashiers with an amount equal to the average daily collection, or obtain a blanket dishonesty bond in a higher amount.
Investigation: Law enforcement officials are investigating whether a possible scam to divert funds was under way at the water department.
A special state audit commissioned by the city uncovered the problems.
Dunewood sometimes delayed depositing receipts, an indication that cash was not being deposited. That shows "a potential lapping scheme" to divert cash and delay deposits until "sufficient subsequent receipts are accumulated to cover the amount diverted," the audit says.
Water office manager 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 of revenues and enforcing a policy that money is to be deposited within 24 hours of collection.
The city determined he did not enforce that rule between April 3 and May 1.
The audit also took issue with a number of water department policies and procedures, including that math errors were found on deposit slips. The discrepancies varied from 5 cents to $13,080.
Police Chief John Mandopoulos said that as long as an officer is available, he or she will escort water department employees to the bank each day to make deposits.