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March 26, 2014

Overtime pay the crux of vo-tech forensic audit

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County Career and Technical Center’s former assistant business manager allegedly logged overtime while on vacation, an audit report shows.

Results of a forensic audit are key to the county vocational-technical school straightening out its finances and moving forward, its administrative director and business manager, Leonard A. Rich, said last week.

The audit has resulted in the state police filing felony theft-related charges against Chastity Yvett Williams, 37, of Union Township.

The report alleges she took about $92,413 from the school through unauthorized overtime payments while she was its assistant business manager.

One notation in the audit is that from July 2012 through June 2013, Williams allegedly reported vacation time and overtime hours for the same days.

She received $1,071.54 in unauthorized time-and-a-half pay for those days, the report said.

Tuesday, Williams deferred comment to her attorney about the audit contents and charges.

“From a general standpoint, my client is innocent,” her attorney, James Manolis said. “This is an unfortunate case about a highly educated, hard-working, well-respected mother of five, charged with criminal conduct because of the ineptitude of others.”

Manolis said he accompanied Williams to the district judge office in Ellwood City March 7 when charges were filed and “she turned herself in.”

Williams faces a preliminary hearing April 8. She was not arraigned on the charges but was released and sent a summons to appear in court.

Manolis did not comment on the audit report, saying he has not yet reviewed it.

In October, the school’s joint operating committee hired forensic auditors Zelenkofske-Axelrod of Wexford to examine its financial records from March 1, 2010, through Aug. 31, 2013.

The firm, which was paid about $10,000, was instructed to look for any unusual and unauthorized transactions.

The operating committee authorized Rich to turn over the audit results to the Lawrence County district attorney, he said, “because it’s not my job to determine if something is criminal or not.”

The center’s former director and business manager, Andrew J. Tommelleo, who was Williams’ supervisor, had resigned in mid-June amid controversy over the school’s finances.

In question was why the adult practical nursing program was operating in the red and draining the school’s funds, and what had happened to the fund balance the nursing program had in prior years.

For a few years during Tommelleo’s tenure, the center had problems building annual budgets that met with the approval of member school districts. The school temporarily closed in summer 2011 after member school boards refused to approve a budget before June 30.

The school budget came close to rejection again last year because of the practical nursing program deficit. Instead, the joint operating committee voted in the spring to close the nursing program. It ended in February after its last class had graduated.

Williams remained in her position at the school two more months after Tommelleo had left, resigning effective Aug. 31.

Domenic J. Ionta, a retired school superintendent, was named interim director in mid-June, serving until Rich was hired in October.

Leroy Cortez of Ellwood City, a joint operating committee member, commented at last week’s meeting, “Some months ago, the (committee) made a widespread decision to pay for a forensic audit and through it, we have been able to recover a lot of money we lost.”

While the money has not actually been recovered, Rich said he believes the center will take steps to ensure it is.

“The forensic audit is a positive, not a negative,” Rich said last week. “If people are to be accountable, then they’re to be accountable.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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