Town Auditor Who Was Fired Sues Greenwich

Former internal town auditor for Greenwich Melinda Frame is suing the town. Her complaint was filed last week in State Superior Court in Stamford.

Frame, who was hired in August of 2016, says the town interfered with her work and covered up problems in town departments. She was fired in August.

The suit names First Selectman Peter Tesei and Town Administrator Benjamin Branyan, as well as other town officials.

Frame seeks damages in excess of $15,000, in addition to lost wages, back pay, future lost wages, lost benefits, compensation for emotional distress, and attorney’s fees.

The complaint says prior to her hire, internal audits were “unorganized, mismanaged, and failed to comply any professional internal auditing standards,” and that after she was hired and applied more rigorous and professional practices, a Parking Services audit in particular resulted in the discovery of theft and financial mismanagement, leading to the arrest of Michael Gordon on for Larceny in 2017.

But, according to the complaint, there was resistance from Mr. Tesei and Mr. Branyan, and the investigation was blocked beyond the theft attributed to Mr. Gordon despite the possibility of significantly greater theft. The complaint said, “her audit led to an outside forensic investigation that revealed that the misappropriation of funds could be as great as $2,200,000.”

On Wednesday Peter Tesei said in an email, “Ms. Frame’s lawsuit is fraught with unsubstantiated allegations which are both deceptive and misleading.”

Tesei said it is obvious the Town’s Audit process has become politicized.

“Politics should not have a role in the fiduciary responsibilities of both Town officials and employees,” he continued adding that he looked forward to the Town vigorously pursuing what he believed is a frivolous legal action by a former employee who was justifiably dismissed by Town Comptroller Peter Mynarski. Mr. Mynarski is appointed by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

Frame’s complaint said she met resistance from “entrenched bureaucrats and politicians,” and that employees and management failed to cooperate with her audits, and both she and people who cooperated with her audits were victims of personal attacks.

Also, the complaint alleges that in 2017, an election year, there were particular efforts to minimize her findings and delay or prevent disclosure of audits.

On Dec 1, 2017 Mr. Tesei eliminated the position of Director of Parking Services held by Rita Azrelyant.

Frame’s complaint said Ms. Azrelyant had raised potential malfeasance in her department that led to Frame’s audit.

Azrelyant is suing the Town too. Her case is currently pending in State Superior Court where she seeks monetary damages and wants her job reinstated. (Her complaint is available online.) 

Frame’s complaint said that in 2017, malfeasance in parking services was an ongoing embarrassment for Tesei and his administration, and that Azrelyant’s position being eliminated happened just after his narrow reelection, in retaliation for Azrelyant’s whistleblowing.

The complaint says after receiving the draft of her parking services audit Ron Lalli, a retired town employee hired in 2018 as a part time consultant, encouraged employees to attack the report and “go after” Frame personally, and sent a response to the draft audit to Mike Mason, a Republican on BET including a “vicious” email attacking Frame complete with “deep state” conspiratorial allegations:

“What I am writing to you about is a draft internal audit report being circulated by the current unsupervised Internal Auditor. It is a totally biased and completely unbalanced report borne out of hatred of republicans and a friendship with the former director. There are other current employees who are part of an anti-DPS cabal, but I do not want to waste time on these people. The problem is that the internal auditor has a built-in audience.”

Frame’s lawsuit says that in her 2017 audit of cash handling of the Town Clerk’s Office she discovered, “Pervasive, systemic accounting deficiencies and substandard practices that the financial records all but pointed to a classic ‘lapping fraud’ scheme.”

A Lapping fraud is when an employee diverts cash for personal use from a payment from one transaction and hides it by applying a cash or check payment from another transaction to offset the amount from the first transaction.

In an interview earlier this month Budkins told GFP that a year-and-a-half long internal audit turned up a discrepancy of just $28.01 in favor of the Town.

“We handle millions of dollars, and not once have we had a problem. And we do a lot of state reports,” said Budkins who is running for re-election on Nov 5. “The audit was loaded with over 150 errors, which were corrected. …We never used any system that was not approved by Treasury or Finance.”

Frame’s complaint asserts that instead of cooperating, Budkins responded that the report was “slanderous and unprofessional,” and threatened a law suit. Further, that Budkins enlisted Deborah Hess, a Republican BET candidate at the time to support her attack on Frame and the audit. At the time Hess was the Treasurer for Tesei’s re election campaign.

The complaint says Hess intervened on Budkins’ behalf and attacked the internal audit despite not yet being an elected member of the BET.

Reached by email, Debra Hess said, “I believe Ms. Frame’s allegations are baseless. As I have previously stated publicly, I obtained information immediately prior to being elected at town meetings that were open for anyone to attend. It is unfortunate that Ms. Frame is flailing about, seeking to blame others, rather than take responsibility for her own actions.”

The lawsuit also focuses on Frame’s audit of Food Services at the Board of Education, which she undertook after receiving information about potential improprieties including fraud and vendor kickbacks.

For that audit Frame asked the town for a laptop computer after having used her personal one to do remote work for nearly two years. Her lawsuit said she worried about a cyber security risk of using her own laptop because the audit would involve protected student data.

Frame’s complaint alleges use of a personal laptop was the excuse for the town to fire her even though for years she had been allowed to use her own computer for remote work, and that her boss, comptroller Mr. Mynarski, “suddenly made an issue of it and demanded she surrender her laptop so that the Town IT could scan it.”

Frame was fired in August and one of the assertions in her law suit is that she was discharged in order to prevent her from investigating allegations of fraud, kickbacks and mismanagement in BOE Food Services Division.