State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, joined by Mayor James Sottile and District Attorney Holley Carnright, unveiled the findings, which arose during a routine audit of school district finances, at an unusual City Hall press conference Monday morning.
Matthews was placed on administrative leave Jan. 14, when officials at the Comptroller’s Office notified Mayor James Sottile about the alleged fraud; two weeks later, Sottile suspended Matthews without pay.
The Valentine’s Day press conference was the first detailed explanation of the allegations against Matthews. Matthews also faces a charge of felony grand larceny for allegedly stealing $9,000 from a safe at police headquarters used to store evidence and investigative funds.
“Police officers are sworn to uphold the law and protect the public,” DiNapoli said. “But at least one Kingston officer chose to take advantage of his position and cheat taxpayers.”
The allegations against Matthews are laid out in a letter from Deputy Comptroller Steven J. Hancox, head of the agency’s Division of Local Government and School Accountability, to Sottile and the Common Council. The audit, which covered the period of June 1, 2009 to Aug. 31, 2010, found that Matthews billed overlapping hours on 16 separate occasions for a total of 57 hours. Payroll records obtained by the Kingston Times show that Matthews routinely logged 50 hours or more working at the school, including an average of two 15-hour double shifts each week.
According to Hancox’s report, the majority of the double dipping occurred when Matthews was charging for night security at the high school while simultaneously billing overtime from the police department for afternoon and evening hours. It is unclear where Matthews actually was working during those hours. Along with the alleged double dipping, Hancox’s letter said that on one occasion, Matthews billed the police department and the school for an “unlikely” number of hours. According to the report, on June 22 and 23, Matthews claimed to have worked 37 hours over a 38.5-hour time period.
“The number of hours claimed in this time frame seems highly unusual considering the type of work being performed,” wrote Hancox.
According to the letter, auditors launched the probe after they turned up “potential problems” with 13 police officers who worked part-time as security guards at Kingston schools. Altogether, the cops were paid $185,921 for their services at the school during the 2009-10 school year. Auditors focused their attention on four officers who together made $110,367. Matthews, who was paid $58,964 by the school district, was the only officer accused of double dipping. But at Monday’s press conference, DiNapoli would not rule out the possibility that other cops were involved in payroll fraud.
“[Matthews’ alleged double dipping] was an obvious situation,” said DiNapoli. “But at the mayor’s request, we are doing a more detailed audit of the police department and I don’t want to say anything to prejudice that.”
The audit also found that lax procedures for authorizing overtime allowed Matthews to carry out the alleged fraud without drawing attention from supervisors. According to the report, Matthews was allowed to authorize his own overtime and the police department did not keep records to document when his shifts began and ended.
“City officials should require that police overtime be authorized and approved by someone charged with supervising each officer’s work,” Hancox wrote. “Starting and ending times should be documented for all shifts worked. These times should be verified periodically.”
At the press conference, Sottile pledged full cooperation with the police audit and promised to move swiftly to tighten controls on overtime.
Read Kingston Times’ Feb. 17 edition for full coverage of the comptroller’s press conference and further developments.