Council addresses Helmuth's role in cover-up
July 06, 2011 - After months of silence, the Oxford Village Council last week finally addressed the issue of one its members covering up an alleged embezzlement of tax payments when she was a municipal employee.
"It's like the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about," said Councilman Tony Albensi. "Well, now is the time we should talk about this."
"It's an unfortunate incident that happened to this village (and) makes this council look bad," Albensi noted. "It makes this village look bad that somebody serving this community . . . admitted to covering up an alleged crime. It's disappointing."
At issue is the fact that back in 2006-07, Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth, who was employed as the deputy treasurer at the time, discovered that Deputy Clerk Patricia Paad had allegedly embezzled approximately $3,300 in property tax payments, made in cash, from three village residents.
When Helmuth discovered the alleged crime, she admitted that she chose not to report it and instead, helped conceal it by loaning Paad money from her own pocket to cover the missing tax monies. She did this because Paad was her friend.
Helmuth kept silent about everything until January of this year, when she informed the village manager and police chief about it because Paad was a candidate for the full-time village clerk position and that concerned her.
Paad, who's been suspended without pay since late January, is currently facing five felony counts of embezzlement by a public official over $50. Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
No council member has publicly commented on Helmuth's actions until Albensi raised the issue during last week's meeting.
"I think it's high time that this council addresses the situation that happened and that is continuing to happen," Albensi said. "We have a former employee who has allegedly embezzled money, which this community is well aware of. We have a council member who was an employee at the time, who admitted to covering that alleged embezzlement up for a period of five years. This council needs to discuss this."
Albensi admitted he's just as guilty as the rest of the council for not speaking up until now.
"I am very disappointed that this council, including myself, has taken (five) months to talk about this publicly," he said. "I think this council should have talked about it when it first came up and it didn't. Shame on us. Shame on me."
Albensi made his feelings very clear that Helmuth's actions were wrong, in his opinion.
"At the time, the employee who covered it up had a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of this town to report that immediately and they did not," he said.
Albensi indicated he's spoken with "several people" who feel the same way.
"I know a lot of people that are very upset that this person hasn't stepped up and done the right thing," he said.
Helmuth had very little to say in response to Albensi's comments.
"I think this is awesome everybody's getting everything off their chest. Let's get it off, let's get it out there," she said. "A majority of the council members have already called me. Personally, we've discussed this. As long as everybody gets it all out. Better out than in."
Although she praised Albensi for being brave enough to publicly broach the subject, village President Teri Stiles said, based on her conversations with the village attorney, council's hands are legally tied. Council is not able to take any action concerning what Helmuth admitted to doing when she was a village employee.
"This council member has not been accused of or proven (to be) derelict of duty (while) on council," Stiles said. "We as a council are not in a position to accuse or . . . to state that (this) council member is guilty of (dereliction) of duty as a councilperson."
"I'm not sure how appropriate it is to have a trial of a fellow councilperson on actions that are separate from her duties as a council (person)," Stiles noted. "We can ask that councilperson if she's comfortable being on this council. We cannot ask her to leave council. If there's people in this community that would prefer she not be on council, they could ask for a recall."
Albensi made it clear a trial by council was not his intention. "I'm not asking this council to do that," he said, noting he's simply stating his opinion "publicly" and "on the record."
Stiles explained that council didn't say anything regarding Helmuth's actions because the village didn't wish to "jeopardize" its position with regard to the investigation and subsequent criminal prosecution of Paad.
"Having never been faced with any decisions like that before (or) a situation like that before, I felt inaction on my part was a better move in (my) representation of the people in this community," she said.
As for her personal opinion regarding Helmuth's actions, Stiles said, "I think it's really unfortunate that we as a council and we as members of this community were put in that position."
"It's unfortunate that Maureen didn't say something five years ago," she noted.
Councilman Dave Bailey indicated he was pleased that Helmuth did eventually come forward.
"I generally feel that telling the truth is a good thing and when a fellow council member tells the truth, I feel that's a good thing," he said. "In this particular case, a council member has told the truth and gotten into a lot of trouble, which is unavoidable admittedly, but I am willing to give the council member who told the truth credit for doing so. I think that's important."
"So, if I don't say anything now, but tell you something five years from now that's truthful, that's okay?" Albensi retorted.
"Anytime somebody tells the truth I think that's a good thing," Bailey replied.
Councilman Tom Benner was absent from the meeting.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.