City officials and police, including Kingston Police Chief Gerald Keller and Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum (Matthews worked closely with the county-wide Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team), have declined to speak about any aspect of the case, or even take reporters’ calls, deferring all questions to Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright. But two sources, including one who was briefed on the situation by Mayor James Sottile and another with firsthand knowledge of the investigation, described a chain of events leading from a payroll fraud investigation by the state Comptroller’s Office to Matthews’ arrest last week on charges stemming from money missing from a safe in Matthews’ office at KPD headquarters on Garraghan Drive.
According to the sources, who spoke on the condition that their names not be used, the chain of events leading to Matthews’ arrest began on Friday, Jan. 14. The 25-year police veteran was placed on administrative leave after officials at the state Comptroller’s Office informed city officials that they had found evidence that Matthews may have double-dipped by charging the school district for off-duty work as a security guard at Kingston High School at the same time he was purportedly working on police business. The allegations arose during what a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office described as a routine audit of the district. Following discussions between Chief Keller and Mayor Sottile, Matthews was placed on paid leave shortly after attending a press conference in Uptown Kingston to release information on the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Zachary Green. Matthews, who is normally responsive to press calls, has not answered his cell phone since.
According to a source who was briefed by Sottile, after Matthews was placed on leave, Keller asked him to turn over the key to the Detective Division’s safe. Matthews reportedly told Keller that he would not turn over the key and that the contents of the safe would not match an inventory list.
On Wednesday, Jan. 19, City Comptroller John Tuey stood by while a locksmith opened the safe, which had been removed from police headquarters. Tuey reconciled the contents of the safe with the inventory list. He found $9,000 missing. The next day, Matthews was arrested and charged with third-degree grand larceny, a felony. Matthews was arraigned in Kingston City Court and released on his own recognizance. While on leave, he is still collecting his salary. His base salary, with longevity pay, in 2009 was $77,297; according to published reports, in 2007 he was the top overtime earner in the department, making $70,409 over and above his $65,950 base-plus-longevity pay.
According to two sources familiar with the investigation, the safe contained money seized as evidence in police investigations, as well as investigative funds which are used to pay informants and make undercover purchases of drugs, stolen property or other contraband. Carnright said his office was still working to determine the purpose of the money found in the safe.
“I have no comment on the evidence because I have not completed the investigation,” said Carnright. “There are a couple of different sources of funds entrusted to the police department. I don’t know that it would be entirely correct to say that the [missing] money is evidence.”
Carnright said that Matthews’ arrest was the first step in a grand jury probe which will encompass both the alleged theft from the safe and the double-dipping allegations. Carnright added that the investigation would be thorough; it could expand if new evidence comes to light.
“When you start an investigation like this, you go where it leads you,” said Carnright. “But I don’t have any information right now that would lead me to believe that this goes beyond [the theft and payroll fraud allegations].”
Carnright will also have to contend with the impact of Matthews’ arrest on criminal cases. As head of the Detective Division, Matthews was a regular presence on the witnesses stand in city and county court. Matthews also played a role in drug and gang investigations around the county based on his work with the URGENT team.
Matthews was initially a co-commander of the interagency task force which started in 2007 to combine investigative resources from local and federal agencies. In 2010, Keller said that Matthews had “stepped back a little” from that role; it is unclear what role Matthews currently plays in URGENT operations.
Local defense attorneys said that in the event Matthews is convicted of crime, any testimony he gave, or was scheduled to give, in cases where defendants accepted a plea deal could be compromised.
“In the event that there is any proven wrongdoing by Lieutenant Matthews, it certainly would have an impact on any open cases requiring his testimony,” said Ulster County Public Defender Andy Kossover. “And it may potentially affect closed cases that would have required his testimony to introduce evidence adverse to the defendant.”
Carnright said that he was “very” concerned about the potential impact of Matthews’ arrest on other cases. “Part of the investigation we will conduct is whether this allegation will impact the integrity of any other investigations we are involved in,” said Carnright.
Gold Shield Society
Carnright declined to discuss aspects of the investigation beyond the alleged theft and payroll fraud. Four sources familiar with the investigation said that the probe may also include Matthews’ activities as head of the Kingston Police Gold Shield Society. The society is a charitable organization whose membership includes senior police officials including detectives, sergeants and lieutenants in the KPD. In addition to charitable activities, including sponsorship of the annual Children’s Parade and carnival at Kingston Plaza, the group appears to have operated as an employment agency linking members to off-duty work for at least one client.
Ulster Savings Bank President Marjorie Rovereto said that the bank has a contract with the Kingston Police Gold Shield Society to provide security at the now-closed Friar Tuck Inn and Spa. The bank foreclosed on the sprawling resort in Catskill in April 2010 and has been trying unsuccessfully to sell the property ever since. Off-duty Kingston cops employed through the Gold Shield Society provide round-the-clock security at the resort.
Rovereto said that she did not know, and could not disclose if she did know, the exact terms of the contract. But three sources familiar with the deal say that it amounts to $6,000 per week. The bank pays the money directly to the society while Matthews, the sources said, cuts checks to the officers who work on the security detail.
According to the state Attorney General’s Office, the society, which is a tax-exempt charity organization under chapter 7A of State Charities Law, is “delinquent in filing the required non-profit paperwork with our office.” Records available from the attorney general’s office show no annual filings by the society since 2005. Kingston Police Gold Shield Society Treasurer Rick Tierney did not return a message left with a fellow detective at Garraghan Drive seeking comment on the Friar Tuck contract.
The Friar Tuck security detail reportedly includes some of the roughly 12 Kingston cops who work as security guards at the school. One source who was briefed on the issue by Sottile said that the Mayor had expressed concern about the levels of off-duty employment by some Kingston cops.
“The question is, how are these guys working at the police department, working at the high school and working at the Friar Tuck?” said the source. “How are they doing all of this?”
Sottile declined to discuss details of the investigation, but he said that the allegations against Matthews highlighted the need for revamped oversight mechanisms at the police department. But, Sottile said, he retained confidence in Keller.
“I am going to rely on the chief to work on safeguards,” said Sottile. “We want to make sure that there are some checks and balances so that nobody gets placed in a compromising position.”
Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley said that the allegations against Matthews has prompted him to review operations at the town’s police department. Quigley said that he had requested payroll records from the school district for a number of Town of Ulster police officers who had indicated in departmental records that they had business dealings with the district, presumably as school guards. Quigley added that the department is currently undergoing a routine re-accreditation process which includes an audit of the department’s evidence safe. Quigley said that after the allegations against Matthews surfaced, he had requested that someone from outside the department be present when the audit took place.
“I do not suspect any kind of wrongdoing,” said Quigley. “But I am erring on the side of caution to make sure that we do not have a problem.”
Matthews’ suspension comes at a critical time for the Detective Division. Matthews had been the sole supervising detective since Detective Sgt. Wayne Maisch retired last summer. Currently, the department is investigating a number of high-profile cases including the disappearance of Zach Green and the Jan. 10 robbery of a Key Bank branch on Wall Street. The division has also felt the impact of major cuts in the department’s overtime budget, which Keller acknowledged has made it more difficult to investigate crimes.
Kingston police administrative officer Lt. Edgidio Tinti said that he is supervising the 10-member detective division on an interim basis.