BELLAIRE - Now maybe the taxpayers of the village of Bellaire will get some answers.
Village Water Department Clerk Lisa Flaherty was arrested in Binghamton, N.Y. Thursday in a cooperative effort that will see Flaherty extradited shortly back to Belmont County. Flaherty had been on the run since failing to report to work April 7.
On April 6, the Auditor of State's Athens Regional Office was contacted about suspected theft of utility payments.
The following day Flaherty didn't report for her duties and utility information was missing from the village's computer system.
It was announced the auditor's office had began a thorough investigation of the Bellaire Water Department. Village Mayor Vince DiFabrizio quickly issued a gag-order for village employees pertaining to the investigation.
Flaherty allegedly was behind the theft of utility payments, as well as the missing information. The arrest warrant issued to her Thursday detailed as much.
Flaherty is being charged with two third-degree felonies, tampering with evidence and theft in office. A third charge of tampering with records is a fourth-degree felony.
Bellaire Police Chief Mike Kovalyk couldn't speculate on the total amount of money that was missing from the department as the auditor's investigation is still ongoing.
However, he did point out the statute language in one of the charges against Flaherty stipulates theft between "$7,500 to $150,000."
After Kovalyk and Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter received word that the warrant was ready, they sent word to the state auditor Dave Yost's office. Yost, in turn, dispatched two officers from the Special Investigations Unit to Binghamton. They coordinated with local law enforcement to bring in Flaherty.
"When missing taxpayer dollars are at stake, we'll go where we need to go to recover them," Yost stated in a press release. "My office, law enforcement and the county prosecutor worked together to capture this fleeing suspect."
Kovalyk explained that it wasn't a matter of finding Flaherty, rather waiting for the investigation to drum up enough evidence to get the warrant issued.
The Bellaire Police Department, with assistance from DiFabrizio, had kept tabs on Flaherty's changing location since she first left the village.
"The mayor played a big part in it," Kovalyk said. "We have been tracking her ever since she left. We were able to keep track of where she was going and what she was doing.
"We just needed enough evidence records, financial records, computer files to get the warrant issued. We monitored her on a daily basis through different means. When the information came together, Berhalter filed the complaint and the warrant was issued."
Now the question is, how forthcoming will Flaherty be in the investigation and what may she give up in hopes of gaining possible leniency.
Kovalyk wouldn't speculate on the matter, but wanted to stress the overall investigation is far from over.
"It's not over," the chief stated. "There may be other individuals that are charged as part of this investigation as other information comes out."
Kovalyk also credited Lieutenant Donna Baroch for playing a sizable role in the investigation.
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