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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2011

BKW employee claims identity theft

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — A Berne-Knox-Westerlo employee has claimed identity theft by his supervisor, who admits to making a clerical error, but the administration has found no intent of wrongdoing in its investigation.

BKW’s septic system discharges into the Fox Creek, and the district is required by the state to perform quarterly tests to make sure that water flowing into the creek is of near-potable quality.

This testing is normally performed by James Brooks, a maintenance mechanic and licensed water treatment operator who has worked at BKW for 16 years.

In the first quarter of the year, Brooks began filling out his paperwork, and went to collect samples of the water he would normally test. But there was no discharge coming from the pipe, so he was unable to take a sample. He put away the bottles and the related form, and carried on with his work.

Brooks injured his back while shoveling snow during a recent storm, and took a leave of absence from March 28 to May 16, meaning he was not present to perform his tests for the second quarter of 2011.

After he returned to work, a form appeared on his desk, indicating that on April 27, he submitted test results to St. Peter’s Bender Laboratory.

“I happened to notice the date, so I called Bender Labs and talked to Betty Sherman,” Brooks told The Enterprise. “She said that I had submitted the original documents. I said, ‘No, I wasn’t here.’ So, she faxed it to me. Someone took a previous document, altered the date, left my name on it and submitted it on behalf of the school.”

Brooks wrote this week in a letter to the Enterprise editor, “No one has the right to use any of our names. It is immoral and, unfortunately, in this case, I’ve been informed by the New York State Police, not illegal.”

New York State’s Penal Law describes identity theft as when someone “knowingly and with intent to defraud assumes the identity of another person by presenting himself or herself as that other person,” but no evidence has been found that there was any intent to defraud.

Peter Shunney, who heads BKW’s maintenance office, said Wednesday that his office performed the required tests, and that he had changed the date and submitted the test results for the second quarter to Bender Laboratory.

“It was more or less an error on my part; I should have changed the name but I didn’t really think about it to be honest with you,” said Shunney, who went on to recount what took place.

“I called Bender Lab and asked if it was OK if we used the same sample bottles, or if that’s a problem; sometimes the sample bottles can’t sit,” Shunney explained. “They said, ‘Go ahead and use the sample bottles.’ The paperwork was already filled out, and I actually did change the date on the paper…I think I whited out the date. I changed it to the quarter that we were taking the sample for, and I inadvertently forgot to change his name on the sample sheet. I didn’t really look at it close enough. The date’s critical to the lab, but who took the sample is really not critical to the lab. Who takes the sample is more of a district record than a Bender Lab record. So, I didn’t change the name because I really didn’t think about it.”

Shunney went on to say that he has not spoken with Brooks about the matter directly, but Brooks said that he has met with Kevin Callagy, the district’s business official, as well as Superintendent Paul Dorward, who said that the district is investigating.

“Something like that brought to our attention, we want to make sure we’re investigating,” Dorward said. “But, up to this time, nothing’s come to light from that to indicate any intention of wrongdoing.”

Rick Georgeson, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said this week that BKW has no record of poor test results.

“I was just talking to the engineer, and there’ve been no problems in the last few years,” said Georgeson. “He said he hasn’t heard of anything, and their permit is good through 2015.”

He went on, “They’re permitted for 18,525 gallons a day. They’ve got another discharge that goes to the groundwater, and that’s for 6,800 gallons. But the groundwater one doesn’t have to be monitored, because it just goes to a septic tank. The one that goes to the Fox Creek is the one that has to be monitored quarterly.”

Said Shunney, “I’m not even sure I’ve filled those forms out before, so it’s not my regular thing.” He concluded, “I guess the thing to do now would be to correct the paperwork we got from Bender Lab. Jim [Brooks] might have already corrected it.”

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