!PLANET EXCLUSIVE! TWO STORIES OF THEFT AT AND ABOUT CITY HALL … CASES POINT BACK TO LACK OF MAYORAL LEADERSHIP AS THIEIR ULTIMATE CAUSE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
KEEP READING. THE STORY IS POSTED BELOW THE ADVISORY.
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, DEC. 20, 2013) — Got to keep this quick. THE PLANET even now is at work on a story that will reveal (a) anew (and startling) case of theft inside the most important office at city hall and (b) More information on the already-reported (and under-reported) theft at the DPW yard.
Miles to go yet, but we shall be back, later this afternoon, with the goods. Make sure you check back. We hope to have the story soon — no later than 5 p.m., in any case. We got it first and best.
See you all later.
ADD 1 DEC. 20, 2013
Here’s the story:
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, DEC. 20, 2013) — Inside jobs at city hall and in allegedly in city departments illustrate the true cost exacted upon taxpayers by the lack of leadership stemming from the corner office.
SPEAKING OF THEFT INSIDE CITY HALL …
You’ve heard about the alleged theft of diesel fuel at the city yard on West Housatonic street. THE PLANET has more details on that, but first, one you haven’t heard about, this one affecting the city clerk’s office. This is a breaking story.
At the end of August, the city clerk’s office noticed a $10 discrepancy at the end of the day while going through the office’s daily internal accounting procedures. Assuming it was an honest mistake, city clerk Linda Tyer and staff checked and re-checked, but the numbers still came up $10 short. The next day, the same thing happened.
Sources say Tyer went to the police. Police chief Mike Wynn made a decision was made not to inform the mayor or anyone else outside the clerk’s office of the thefts in order to keep the investigation strictly confidential involving as few people as possible. The mayor was informed after the arrest was made.
Police installed a hidden camera in the clerk’s office. Sources say the camera caught the accused going into the city clerk’s safe at night. Somehow, apparently, he obtained the combination to the locked safe. According to sources, the thief raided the safe “about five or six times” making off with a total of $305 before the police intervened with an arrest.
Police charged Mike Hubby Jr., the evening janitor working the 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. shift, with larceny. Hubby was arraigned in District Court. According to court documents obtained by THE PLANET, police slapped Hubby with five charges from alleged actions that took place on Aug. 21, 29, and 30 of this year. The charges are two counts of larceny from a building and three counts of breaking into a depository (safe). The documents indicate that Hubby waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to the charges.
On Nov. 22 before Judge Vrabel, to the first charge of larceny, Hubby agreed to pay the restitution in full, $305. Court records indicated that as a final disposition, the charge was dismissed on recommendation of the Probation Department. On the second charge of larceny, the judge found sufficient facts and continued the case without a finding. On the three charges of breaking into a safe, the court found sufficient facts but continued the case without a finding. Court documents indicate there were dispositions of the other four charges on Nov. 22 but they do not specify what they were.
That the court documents indicate multiple counts of larceny and breaking into more than one safe suggest that Hubby may have also stolen from another department in addition to the clerk’s office. We believe this to be the case, and we shall continue to look into it.
THE PLANET hasn’t been able to determine if Hubby is still employed by the city.
The prosecution is being handled by the office of District Attorney David Capeless. Mayor Dan Bianchi was informed of the matter. He would have more than casual interest, since sources tell THE PLANET that Hubby’s father and grandfather are former city workers, and that one or both of them were “big Bianchi supporters” in the latter’s 2011 narrow win over Peter Marchetti.
One source says nepotism led to Hubby Jr.’s hiring, calling him unsuited for the position: ”They finally caught the guy, and he admitted the theft. The kid who was caught was completely unqualified [for the job], which he got only through his family connections [to Bianchi].”
The biggest question is Hubby got the combination, but the larger aspect of this case is its deft handling by the city clerk’s office, which is the best managed in the city. Upon taking over as clerk, Tyer installed sophisticated accounting procedures to handle the sizable amount of cash that runs through the office each day. The thefts would have gone on much longer if those audit procedures were not in place.
There’s no doubt that the city clerk’s system in place is fine tuned enough to have detected a missing saw buck. THE PLANET wonders how much money was taken, if any, prior to Tyer’s term? We can also say with confidence that the circumspection and attentiveness shown by Tyer and her staff in this case saved taxpayers a lot of missing money.
Mayor Bianchi and director of administrative services Mary McGinnis did not return THE PLANET’s inquiries. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
THE PLANET has also uncovered new information on the previously reported alleged theft at the DPW yards.
Three employees of the city’s highway department — Todd Wallace Sr., 51, of New Lebanon, NY; Richard Bator, 53, of Cheshire; and Kevin Liebenow, 53, of Pittsfield — have been charged with theft by Pittsfield police. Diesel fuel, batteries, office supplies, and auto parts were allegedly stolen, sources tell THE PLANET. Our sources tell us the total value of missing fuel and parts could reach six figures, far more than the $500 being reported by the Berkshire Eagle. Police presented the charges to the three men on Dec. 11.
Police charged Wallace with two counts of felony larceny from a building. Liebenow faces three counts of larceny. Baitor faces one count of larceny from a building. Theywill be arraigned on Jan.3 in District Court.
City hall sources tell THE PLANET that when Mayor Bianchi was first informed of the alleged theft, “He didn’t want it to be public [and tried to keep it from the press]. He didn’t do anything, but he was forced into it” by Peter Bruneau, superintendent of the city yard on West Housatonic Street, sources say. The city doesn’t have a DPW commissioner per se. Sources say Bruce Collingwood, listed on the city website as “acting” commissioner, was told about the alleged thefts but ignored it. The Berkshire Eagle reports that Collingwood approached the police in October.
A piece of information that may prove relevant to the case is that Wallace’s son, Tod Wallace Jr., recently opened an automotive repair business at the old Mobil gas station site on Elm Street in Pittsfield, next to the former Friendly’s. THE PLANET stopped there this week. Tod Wallace Sr., who was working there, said the business, Modern Automotive Repair Service (MARS), opened in September. Police say they learned of the alleged thefts from the city yard in October. Police contend that Wallace delivered stolen materials to his son’s garage. Tod Wallace Jr. also works at the city maintenance garage but is on a leave of absence, sources say. Police have not yet charged the younger Wallace with a crime. Police say the DPW investigation is continuing and further charges may be forthcoming.
As of press time, neither Bruneau, Bianchi, McGinnis, or Chief Wynn had returned THE PLANET’s calls.
If there’s a hero in this unfolding mess, it’s Bruneau, an overworked, underpaid public servant who, at the moment, is twisting in the mayor’s wind. Bruneau is the guy who takes care of anyone who calls him. If he’s told about a pothole, the next day he’s there, fixing it. Indeed, to a person, city councilors have nothing but good things to say about Bruneau. And he’s the type of good, honest hard worker that gets the short end of the stick when a leadership void ends in an “every man for himself” mentality, which appears to be the case now at city hall under Bianchi.
“This [scandal] is a direct result of no one in charge,” one city hall source says. “There’s no leadership. It’s a mess.”
THE PLANET reminds all that until convicted in and by a court of law, anyone charged with a crime must be considered not guilty. The charges are allegations at this point, waiting to be proven or disproven in court.
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There are several troubling aspects to these cases.
* First, they have the common element of nepotism.
* Second, they seem to suggest a pattern. Concurrent thefts, if they can be proven, hitting two city departments (perhaps more) reflect more than aberration.
* Third, there is a belief inside city hall of a leadership failure stemming from Bianchi’s non-presence.
* Fourth, these two cases are the ones we have managed to uncover, only after considerable investigation. Are there or have there been more cases of internal theft at city hall or in other city departments that have not seen the light of day? It’s a reasonable question.
* Fifth, workers inside city hall say the mayor frequently takes frequent time off, comes in late, leaves early, and doesn’t want to be involved in actually running the city. Ask those in city hall, and you’ll hear variations on this theme, over and over: lots of mayoral hooky. We’ve tried to ask Bianchi about this, but he’s not talking.
* Sixth, there’s a widespread belief that Bianchi still works at his “previous” job at Global Montello Group, an energy company. At our last checking, Bianchi still maintains an office on the third floor at 100 North Street, about a two-minute walk from his office at city hall. While mayor, he has often been seen walking from city hall into the “First Aggie” building. If you go to Global’s website and go to the “contacts” link, you will Bianchi still listed as “Account Manager” with a hot link to his e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
How many hours, if any, does the mayor work at or for Global? Is the mayor double-dipping on the sly? We know that McGinnis double dips. She runs a downtown bakery. It would not be illegal, of course, since the city charter doesn’t define the mayor’s job. He can come in the office for one minute a week, and technically he’s fine. Morally, however, is another story. THE PLANET recalls how, shortly after taking the oath in 2012, Bianchi pledged he would be a full-time mayor and would not be working for Global. In a visit to his office at 100 North Street shortly after his victory in 2011, Bianchi told us as much. Has the mayor gone back on his word?
Again, we tried several times to contact the mayor, but he continues to duck and cover instead of being a leader and standing out in front of the story of the alleged thefts in and among city departments. He should have freely reported these actions to citizens, who have a right to know if the public servants hired on their behalf — elected, appointed, or hired — are being accused of wrongdoing.
On the DPW case, Bianchi told the Eagle the case is “in the hands of the court system.” Eagle scribe Andrew Amelinckx reports Bianchi told him that “a review of our records suggested something was going on.” Yeah, right. The mayor said he will not adopt new procedures based on the alleged stealing. “Our system is fairly well developed now.”
Yeah, right again, Mr. Mayor. “Fairly well developed” means that two and perhaps three city departments have been the victims of alleged internal theft, with who knows how many more. One of the cases has been admitted to. Your procedures are working great.
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Bianchi needs to call a press conference, outlining what steps he will take to prevent such actions from happening in the future. Instead, he fails to take ownership. The result has been the establishment of an atmosphere of fear and a culture of foreboding inside city hall. There are far too many good, solid workers there to have to put up with that. We’ve been in that building countless times, during the tenures of many mayors, and we’ve never seen morale this bad.
It’s a natural human tendency to want to cover up unpleasant or embarrassing news and incidents; THE PLANET understands that. However, it’s also a great separator of character. A person of strong character who purports to be a leader faces unpleasantness head-on. Instead of pretending that everything’s perfect on his watch, the mayor should momentarily ditch the ribbon cutting, party going, and certificate awarding and spend more time proactively addressing the deep and growing problems that are eating away at the city from within and without.
The Good Ship Bianchi continues to take on water, and the ensuing sinking may take the city down with it. Meanwhile, we publicly call upon the mayor to step up to the plate and face the live pitching. He’s got our number, and we’re open for business any time he calls.
Or will THE PLANET will have to pull a Mike Wallace on the mayor?
“Elephantus non capit murem.” — from the Latin, meaning, “An elephant does not capture a mouse.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.