Oak Bluffs Council on Aging director faces further scrutiny

COA director Roger Wey emphatically denied suggestions of wrongdoing with town department finances. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Roger Wey, the suspended director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA), faces further scrutiny for his handling of agency accounts. On the advice of the town’s special labor counsel Jack Collins, Oak Bluffs selectmen Monday voted 4-0, with only Gail Barmakian abstaining, to hire an outside investigator to probe COA finances.

Mr. Wey has been on paid administrative leave since February 11, after selectmen, again acting on the advice of Mr. Collins, asked Oak Bluffs police to launch an investigation into questionable accounting practices in the department Mr. Wey oversees. Police on March 6 concluded that probe with a determination that probable cause did not currently exist to charge anyone with a criminal violation.

However, there is no indication that selectmen are prepared to ask Mr. Wey to reassume the the COA leadership any time soon. In a memo dated March 12 to the selectmen, Mr. Collins said the police report raised more questions than it answered.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday morning with The Times, Mr. Wey said he is considering legal action against the town.

At first, Oak Bluffs selectmen scheduled Monday night’s special meeting to review and vote on warrant articles for the annual town meeting on April 8. But a late addition to the agenda, “Report on Investigation of Council on Aging Director” turned a largely procedural evening into a highly charged affair.

After the selectmen blessed the warrant, chairman Walter Vail presented the board with the update from Mr. Collins.

Ms. Barmakian and a vocal contingent of Mr. Wey’s supporters objected to making the document public, Mr. Vail was adamant.

“I don’t want it to appear that we’re hiding anything from the process,” he said, holding up Mr. Collins’s five-page memo, marked “confidential” in bold watermark. “I want it to be totally transparent. I want everyone here to know and everyone who’s watching, that we have a continuing investigation on the Council on Aging finances and Roger Wey. Mr. Collins has given his approval to make this public.”

Town administrator Robert Whritenour added that Mr. Collins had emailed his letter to the selectmen, thus making it a public document.

Further concerns

In a report dated March 6, Oak Bluffs police detective Nicholas Curelli, concluded, “After reviewing the matter with the Attorney General’s office, I concurred with them on 03-05-14 that probable cause does not currently exist to charge anyone with a criminal violation. This matter is closed pending further information and will be referred to the board of selectmen.”

On Tuesday March 11, Mr. Wey stood up at the regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting, police report in hand, and said he wanted to go back to work.

Selectmen said they had not yet received the police report. In his March 12 email to selectmen, Mr. Collins reviewed the police report and laid waste to any notion that Mr. Wey had been exonerated and that the investigation was over.

“While the police may feel that they have not yet obtained enough evidence to initiate a criminal prosecution, as discussed below, this may not be the case. They have indicated that the matter of their criminal investigation ‘is closed pending further information.’ They referred this back to the Board for further instructions. Whether PD or an outside investigator does the work from here on is up to the Board. Moreover, while I cannot predict the future, once the investigation resumes, they may have to re-think that position.

“Clearly there is ample evidence that funds have been mishandled for years by the Director, both personally and at his direction by others. I [sic] some cases this has involved, at a minimum, lack of record keeping. In others, it appears to have taken a form of diversion of town funds or monies that should have been town funds. A substantial number of customary records, bank statements and copies of checks are missing.

“The Town Accountant has reviewed documents supplied by the Director and a third party that the Director has used as a conduit for disbursing certain funds. These documents are what the Town Accountant politely describes as ‘sparse.’ Therefore, he concludes that, ‘due to this shortcoming, I cannot offer assurances as to the validity and therefore can place no reliance on any of the disbursements made from this account.’ The existence or number of checking accounts or other fund handling mechanisms is not clear. The Town Accountant has been able to identify nearly $24,000 that has passed through one such checking account since 2007.”

According to Mr. Collins, in addition to possible criminal charges, there is enough potential conflict of interest on Mr. Wey’s part to trigger an investigation by the state ethics commission.

In addition to the Quilt Fund, Mr.  Collins raised questions about the proceeds from the road races Mr. Wey organized in Oak Bluffs, and about the money Alcoholics Anonymous groups paid to use the COA for meetings.

In his memo, Mr. Collins memo listed inconsistencies that required further investigation:

  • Failure to comply with state laws concerning handling of municipal funds.
  • Missing record keeping
  • Town money not deposited in town treasury
  • Working with non-town employees to disburse what should be town funds
  • Using his governmental position for unauthorized purposes, violating the state’s conflict of interest law
  • Renting out town property without proper accounting, without complying with state public bidding laws and not depositing rents in town treasury, which Mr. Collins notes is a criminal offense when done by a town officer
  • Soliciting donations under false pretenses
  • Creating or sanctioning a corporation to further unlawful purposes
  • Inadequate accounting
  • Entering into unauthorized transactions

Presumption of innocence

Mr. Wey has maintained that money from AA was in the form of checks made out to the Quilt Fund, which was overseen by Glenna Barkan. Ms. Barkan was on hand to express her support for Mr. Wey. She has steadfastly maintained that Quilt Fund money was deposited into the account she supervised, and that checks for individuals in need were written out directly to vendors.

“You say the town accountant discovered larceny,” Ms. Barkan said. “Is the town accountant capable of making that decision?”

Mr. Wey tried on several occasions to interject himself into the proceedings, but he got the gavel from Mr. Vail, who reminded him that he could only speak during public comment and only as a private citizen.

Mr. Vail moved to continue the investigation and to engage outside investigators to do so. Reading from the memo from Mr. Collins, Mr. Vail added, “In making this motion, I want to make clear that this is an investigation and the presumption of innocence remains.”

He added, also using language provided by counsel, “The director’s reputation should not be harmed by unfounded speculation,” Mr. Vail said, eliciting a collective groan of  Mr. Wey’s supporters.

“I feel compelled to mention to the selectmen that when the community development committee took it upon themselves to look into the workings of many of the town departments—police, highway, fire department, they got full cooperation and they issued reports to what they found,” finance committee chairman Steve Auerbach said to the selectmen. “They attempted the same inquiry with the Council on Aging and were unable to set up a time when Roger could meet with them and discuss the operations with the Council on Aging. I feel it’s germane to what is going on right now.”

Ms. Barmakian questioned the open ended expense of hiring outside investigators. She received no support from the other selectmen.

“We’re there every morning playing cards,” Dorothy Underwood said. ”We’re just outside his office and we make a lot of noise and he likes to hear us laugh. We’d like to see him in his office so he can see us enjoying ourselves.”

“We would too,” Mr. Vail said.

“Let’s get this cleared up,” selectman Mike Santoro said.

Mr. Wey will remain on paid administrative leave. According to Mr. Collins, Mr. Wey, by order of selectmen, may not enter the COA or remove files or other documents from the building and must cooperate in various ways with investigators, including furnishing pass codes and banking account information.

Topical thunder

“This whole thing makes me mad,” Mr. Vail said in the calm after the storm. “It makes me mad that we have to deal with something like this. We can’t just say, ‘it’s not a big problem.’ We have no choice, no choice, but to clean it up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. People say we should handle this in executive session, I don’t think the town would like that.”

Mr. Vail was not without his supporters, several of whom approached him after the meeting to commend him for giving the facts precedence over emotions.

“All this is nonsense. We know it’s a witch hunt,” Mr. Wey said in a telephone call with The Times shortly after the meeting. “They didn’t like the messenger, so they’re going to get another messenger. Let them do what they want to do. Everything was done in a manner that was appropriate. I was interviewed once by the police, they could have interviewed me as many times as they wanted to. I’ll spend the money to clear my name. This is my integrity.”

In a followup conversation Tuesday morning Mr. Wey said, “This is a big spin to get me to put up my arms and say ‘I quit.’ That’s never going to happen.”

Mr. Wey also said he is considering legal action. “I have to, it’s getting out of hand.”