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Town accountant files defamation suit against councilman

Sat, Feb 12th 2022 07:00 am

By Alice E. Gerard

On Jan. 28, Pamela Barton, the Town of Grand Island’s senior accountant, filed a lawsuit against Town Councilman Mike Madigan and the Town of Grand Island, alleging Madigan placed a defamatory article in the Sept. 17, 2021, issue of the Island Dispatch. Statements in the article, she alleges, “have no basis in fact” and were “made with actual malice in disregard to plaintiff.” She also alleges Madigan made defamatory comments during a Town Board workshop session on Sept. 7, 2021, and Sept. 20, 2021.

The disputed article was focused on the theft of more than $100,000 from the Golden Age Center. The money involved funded the lunch program and the travel club. According to the lawsuit, “Since at least 2005, the Town Board made the decision that the lunch program and the travel club at the Golden Age Center (GAC) would be outside the Town’s financial system and under the control of the Golden Age Club, a separate 501(c)(3).” As a result, the lunch program and the travel club were not subject to annual mandated audits, as they “were not a part of the Town’s accounts.”

The lawsuit alleges Madigan claimed the plaintiff “made the decision to exclude the Golden Age Center from audit.” In addition, issues were raised in Madigan’s piece about the plaintiff’s supposed relationship with the Bonadio Group, the town’s auditing firm at the time. Madigan, the lawsuit alleges, claimed the auditing firm was “a friend of our accountant” and “our accountant” asked the firm to lower its cost to the town by 33%. She also alleges in the lawsuit that Madigan stated, on multiple occasions, “that the auditor selection process favored ‘friends and family.’ ” She stated in the lawsuit she was neither related to nor friends with the owner and the employee of the Bonadio Group.

According to the lawsuit, Barton was asked in July 2017 to look at the ways in which the Golden Age Center received money. Barton asked, in writing, for clarification on what was being asked of her, but she did not receive clarification. Two months later, she was informed that an outside accounting firm was to perform a review of financial procedures at the Golden Age Center.

Barton, according to the lawsuit, did not hear from the accounting firm until December 2017, when a meeting with the Golden Age Center supervisor was set for January 2018. The supervisor provided financial records for activities that she was responsible for, but she said she did not have records for the time, beginning in 2002, when the former supervisor, Barbara Gannon, began serving as supervisor of the center. Gannon, who had been on medical leave late in 2017, retired on March 31, 2018. Barton persuaded her to disclose seven years’ worth of bank records. Barton then discovered the misappropriation of funds by reviewing bank accounts that were not owned by the town.

At that point, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office was pursuing criminal charges and, the lawsuit noted, asked the matter be kept quiet “to not jeopardize the criminal case and possible plea bargain.” Madigan, however, “publicly disclosed the ongoing investigation” at a Jan. 7, 2019, Town Board meeting, suggesting “a fresh set of eyes” was needed, the complaint stated. It also claims Madigan said, during a work session on Sept. 7, 2021, and at a Town Board meeting on Sept. 20, 2021, that the plaintiff was guilty of “malfeasance” and compared her to “a criminal.” These statements are described as “false and defamatory, as there is no legal basis in support of such an assertion.”

The lawsuit claims the statements published by Madigan were made with “wrongful and willful intent to injure (the) plaintiff in her reputation and to expose her to shame, ridicule, and contempt.”

On February 2019, Gannon, who admitted that she stole $110,671 while employed as the recreation supervisor at the Golden Age Center between July 2011 and Dec. 5, 2017, to support a gambling addiction, pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny in the second degree. In May of 2019, Gannon was sentenced to five years of probation, restitution, and community service after pleading guilty to one count of grand larceny in the second degree.

No one connected with the lawsuit was able to offer any additional comments.

Town Supervisor John Whitney stated, “I have been advised by counsel not to comment on the lawsuit.”

Madigan stated, “I can’t comment on that.”

Barton said, “No comment. I referred you to my complaint, which is public record.”

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