Pfleging charged with stealing $13K from town

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Rensselaerville Supervisor Steven Pfleging last summer grilled food during a town picnic at Bayard Elsbree Memorial Park in Preston Hollow. State Police are now investigating him after an audit of town finances turned up irregularities. He resigned on Dec. 12.

RENSSELAERVILLE — After an audit revealed Steven Pfleging, the town’s supervisor for almost a year, had written town checks to himself, the Rensselaerville Town Board accepted his resignation on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

On Friday morning, Dec. 14, State Police charged Pfleging with grand larceny and falsifying business records, both felonies, and official misconduct, a misdemeanor, according to a release from the police.

Trooper Kerra M. Burns, the public information officer for Troop G, said police received a complaint from the town board about possible fraud involving Pfleging; the release said the board complained “Pfleging had written checks amounting to approximately $13,000 from the Town’s checking account to himself.”

Burns cited state law that a person is guilty of third-degree grand larceny when he steals property with a value that exceeds $3,000.

Pfleging was arraigned Friday in Westerlo Town Court, released on his own recognizance, and was scheduled back in court on Dec. 17, the release said.

On Monday, Cecilia Walsh, spokeswoman for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, said Pfleging’s court appearance on Dec. 17 had been waived. “Defense attorney Aline Galgay waived the preliminary hearing and next appearance is January 9th,” Walsh wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

At a town board meeting Thursday night, Deputy Supervisor John Dolce said that, at the board’s regularly scheduled workshop meeting on Tuesday, the town’s accounting firm, Pattison, Koskey, Howe and Bucci, revealed that multiple checks had been written out to Pfleging from the town’s payroll account. The supervisor is able to sign off on checks as well as review the town’s bank accounts, he said, something Dolce later vowed would change.

Dolce said that Pfleging acknowledged he had done this. Pfleging, 43, declined to comment on his resignation when contacted by The Enterprise on Thursday morning.

Councilman Jason Rauf said the board has not yet determined who will be the next supervisor.

“This is uncomfortable for all of us, for the citizens, that we are disappointed with the supervisor, but we must move forward, and we will move forward,” said Dolce at the Dec. 13 town board meeting.

Dolce said the town board demanded that Pfleging resign immediately. At an emergency meeting the next morning, Dec. 12, the board took measures to ensure Pfleging did not have access to town resources like bank accounts, passwords, and keys. Dolce said State Police were notified and given the information revealed to the board.

Dolce said the full extent of what was taken is still unknown, but the town has an insurance policy to cover the losses.

Councilman Jason Rauf told The Enterprise that the Dec. 12 special town board meeting included a resolution to give Dolce access to public records. The board voted, 4 to 0, to accept Pfleging’s resignation, which he submitted that same morning, said Rauf.

At Thursday night’s meeting, three members of the five-member board — Dolce, Rauf, and Margaret Sedlmeir — tabled a number of items on the agenda, including appointing a new code-enforcement officer and renewing a contract with the town’s accounting firm. Councilwoman Marion Cooke was absent.

From the gallery, Marie Dermody, a Democrat who had run unsuccessfully for town council alongside Pfleging last year and a former town supervisor, was critical of what she said was the second unwarranted emergency meeting held by the town board on Wednesday. Dermody noted the board had regularly scheduled meetings this week to discuss the matter, and should only hold an emergency meeting if “it’s a matter of life and death.”

New York State’s Open Meetings Law, which requires public notice of the time and place of meetings, does not reference emergency meetings. An advisory opinion from Robert Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, states that requirements to notify the media can be done by calling them.

Dermody, who is not from a news organization but does publish an electronic community newsletter, said that she was called by the town clerk about 20 minutes before the Wednesday meeting. The Enterprise, the only media to regularly cover Rensselaerville Town Board meetings, was not notified about the emergency meetings.

One resident in the gallery was critical of the town board’s response.

“I feel like you’re sitting here like someone’s passed away … ,” the woman said. “I think we should be angry.”

“We don’t feel like somebody died; we feel awful … ,” replied Dolce. “The anger was definitely there.”

Dolce said he would like to see the town pay for a payroll service to avoid a similar problem happening again.

“We’re not remorseful. … We’re freaking out,” he said.

Rauf and Sedlmeir agreed.

“I was shaking; I was so furious,” said Rauf.

The board adjourned to a closed session to discuss employee history and discipline as well as legal matters.


Pfleging, a Democrat, was elected last year against a candidate, David Bowdish, who against his will had been put on the Republican ballot and said he would not take the position if elected.

Pfleging, who owns his own construction company, has previously served as the clerk to the planning board and zoning board of appeals and had not held an elected office until serving as supervisor. Pfleging was also until recently the chief of the Medusa Volunteer Fire Company.

For his first year as supervisor, his predecessor, Valerie Lounsbury, a Republican, was hired to work in his office in a mentor role that some criticized.

During his election campaign, Pfleging commented on an earlier conviction for driving while intoxicated. “I don’t have anything to hide,” Pfleging said.

He went on, “I was going through a terrible time with my divorce. I was dumb and got a DWI. I haven’t had a drink since March 25, 2012.”

Pfleging said during the campaign, “I have three wonderful kids.” He went on about his son and two daughters, “I didn’t want my kids to have a father who was a drunk. … I went to ACCA because I was required to,” he said of the Addictions Care Center of Albany. “It taught me a lot.”

He said then that counseling alone won’t fix an alcoholic’s problems. “It has to come from within,” said Pfleging. “I made a mistake and I take responsibility for it. I’ve learned a helluva lot.”

Dolce was appointed to the board in September 2016, to fill out a term left  vacant when the late Robert Bolte resigned because of health problems. Dolce, a Democrat, then ran unopposed in the November election that year. It was his first foray into politics.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Rensselaerville by a ratio of two to one but the town board has for decades been mixed. Currently, the board is composed of Cooke, a Conservative; Rauf, a Republican; Sedlmeir, an Independence Party member; and Dolce, a Democrat.

Dolce, a Queens native, owns Town Line Auto, Town Line Motor Sport, and Town Line Self-Storage on Route 32 in Westerlo. In 1995, he moved his Queens-based automotive business and his family to the rural Hilltowns. His parents, who immigrated from Sicily in 1955, now live in Preston Hollow.

He and his wife, LouAnn, live on Hale Road in Rensselaerville. Two of their three children work at Town Line: their son, Joseph, as general manager and their daughter, Angelica, as comptroller.  Their older daughter works as a mortgage broker in Boston.

He served with the Rensselaerville Volunteer Fire Company for eight years and on the Greenville chapter of Rotary International.

In 2013, a state audit looked at Rensselaerville’s financial records for 2011 and part of 2012. The audit found that layers of accounting practices spread over several years had generated inaccurate financial records and overstated tax revenues; required reports had not been filed with the state; online bank accounts had ineligible users; and an “improper” road machinery fund was created.

The audit concluded that “the town’s accounting records are in poor condition and do not provide an accurate portrait of its financial condition. In fact, the town’s general fund was overstated by a total of $247,036 in fiscal year 2011, which was 30 percent of the budgeted revenues. This overstatement occurred because the town did not properly account for property and sales tax revenue.”

The town board appointed Lounsbury as supervisor in February 2012 after Dermody resigned. Lounsbury was then elected in 2013 to complete Dermody’s term and in the 2013 election won a full four-year term. She served until Pfleging took the reins nearly a year ago.

The review was favorable in the state audit released in September 2016, covering a 15-month period from Jan. 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016.  “The [town] board established an effective claims auditing process to ensure that claims were properly audited before payment and supported by adequate documentation, that the goods and services  were received, and that the claims were for proper town purposes,” the audit said.

The 2016 state audit had no complaints about the town’s bill-paying routine. It found that the town board audits and signs each bill and certifies as correct an abstract of bills prepared by the town clerk. Once the supervisor signs payment checks, the audit found, the deputy town clerk records paid claims on a spreadsheet, mails the check, and “files the paid abstract with the claims.” In the final step, the town clerk “records the paid abstract information in the board minutes.”

Eleven years ago, Rensselaerville had a former town supervisor arrested on larceny charges. In 2007, David Bryan was arrested for stealing from four of the town’s most central institutions — the Rensselaerville Library, the Trinity Church, the Rensselaerville Historical Society, and the Rensselaerville Historical District Association. He later pleaded guilty to felony larceny and, as part of his plea bargain, agreed to pay back the more than $300,000 he’d stolen.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer contributed the section on history.

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