22 Aug 2014
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Criminal Investigation Underway Into West Deptford Water and Sewer Department

The state Attorney General's office is investigating possible abuse of power by township employees.

Criminal Investigation Underway Into West Deptford Water and Sewer Department Criminal Investigation Underway Into West Deptford Water and Sewer Department Criminal Investigation Underway Into West Deptford Water and Sewer Department

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office on Friday afternoon confirmed the agency is conducting a criminal investigation into West Deptford's Water and Sewer Department. 

"We recieved a referral and it will be reviewed in the appropriate manner," said spokeswoman Rachel Goemaat. 

She declined further comment on the investigation.

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The state attorney general's office is investigating alleged improprieties in the township's Water and Sewer Department, Patch has confirmed.

Investigators with the attorney general's Public Corruption Unit are looking into, among other things, whether certain Water and Sewer Department employees continued to receive water and sewer service at their residences even after their service should have been discontinued. 

A law-enforcement source familiar with the criminal investigation confirmed its specifics to Patch on Friday morning. The source was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, and requested anonymity. 

The investigation began sometime after a municipal audit in June found serious discrepancies in the Water and Sewer Department. 

Among the audit's findings regarding the department:

• During an audit of 581 water-sewer utility reading cards, 230 customers were discovered who should have had their service shut off for missed readings. Further procedures performed to ensure that the 230 customers' water was shut off were inconclusive due to poor record keeping by the Township. In addition, of the 230 customers, seven are township employees, four of whom were or are employees of the Water and Sewer Department. One water-sewer employee had only had three actual readings of his or her water meter in the past six years. The audit also found that these readings were conducted by leaving a card at the employee's door and having him or her personally fill in the meter information. This employee was assessed the minimum billing throughout the six years.

• The township's billing system for utilities is outdated, and does not allow for printing of adjusted bills. Adjustments are made manually with a typewriter outside of the utility system. In addition, meter-reading books were recorded in pencil. 

Medford-based accounting firm Holman & Frenia conducted the audit, for fiscal year 2011, when the township was under Democrat control. The audit does not identify any of the employees by name. 

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. 

Republican Mayor Raymond Chintall announced during a township committee meeting Thursday evening that the investigation is being conducted, but he declined to provide any further details. 

Chintall said West Deptford police conducted the initial investigation, but that it was eventually turned over to the Attorney General's office. 

Police Chief Craig Mangano said he was contacted by the Attorney General’s office, which offered to take over the investigation. Mangano said he accepted the offer, but he would not comment on how long the West Deptford police department had been working on the case. 

“It is troubling when possible waste, abuse or even fraud may exist, by those who forget that responsibility of public trust,” Chintall said during the meeting. “In turn, that individual or individuals tarnish the hard working majority, who come to work every day and provide a good public service.”

Chintall said he'd have no further comment because of the ongoing investigation. 

As a proactive measure against similar situations, Committeeman Samuel Cianfarini informed the public Thursday night that a "West Deptford Fraud, Abuse and Waste Hotline" is now established for residents who want to anonymously report any alleged abuse of power by the township‘s government or its employees. 

Residents are urged to call 856-845-4004, ext. 112 to report any alleged government abuse.

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