Former DePeyster Town Clerk Michelle Sheppard was sentenced to five years probation and paid a total of $4,303 in restitution for falsifying her own tax payments for at least three years until her crimes were exposed in an audit and investigation by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office.
St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards sentenced Sheppard based on her August guilty plea to two counts of attempted tampering with public records, an E felony. As part of her plea agreement, Sheppard resigned her clerk’s job and a second position at the St. Lawrence County Clerk’s Office.
“Too often, small towns like DePeyster are cheated when oversight is lacking,” DiNapoli said. “Ms. Sheppard’s crime might have been stopped years ago if the Town Board inspected the books. Thanks to our partnership with St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain and St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells, she was brought to justice.”
DiNapoli’s audit and investigation found that the Town Board failed to oversee the clerk’s operation by conducting annual audits. Sheppard, meanwhile, failed to pay her taxes, track other residents’ tax payments, balance the bank account or even deposit cash collections within 24 hours of receipt as required.
In 2013 alone, Sheppard failed to deposit nearly $13,000 until two months after receipt.
DiNapoli recommended that the town ensure that:
- Annual audits are routinely conducted;
- The board provide frequent monitoring of the clerk’s activities to ensure that tax collections are promptly deposited and accurately recorded;
- The clerk print and keep detailed reports that can be reconciled to bank deposits; and
- The clerk deposit all moneys collected within 24 hours of receipt.
Town officials agreed with the audit findings and have begun to implement many of the Comptroller’s recommendations. Their response is included in the final audit report, which can be viewed here: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/towns/2015/depeyster.htm.
Statewide, DiNapoli’s audits and investigations have led to more than 100 arrests and $20 million in money recovered since 2011.
Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at [email protected], or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236. Review prior cases at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/investigations/index.htm.