By Fred Stabbert III
LIBERTY June 1, 2001 Following a six-month investigation, a 28-year-old Sullivan County Department of Public Works (DPW) employee was arrested Wednesday night and charged with grand larceny and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, Class D & E felonies.
Todd Panich, a transfer station operator for the past two years at the Liberty/Ferndale Transfer Station on Lt. Brender Highway, took more than $3,000 in cash and falsified business records at the station to accommodate the thefts.
While the exact dollar figure of stolen money is still unclear, it could be as high as $50,000, officials said.
Panich also significantly undercharged customers by both weight and type of material for the depositing of garbage, metal or construction/demolition debris. Between money stolen and undercharging, the resulting loss of revenue is between $2,000 to $5,000 per month to the county.
The exact number of months that Panich operated his scheme is unknown, officials said, but it certainly took place for at least four or five months.
The investigation and subsequent arrest was coordinated between the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department and the Sullivan County District Attorneys Office.
District Attorney Stephen Lungen and Sheriff Daniel Hogue commended DPW Commissioner Peter Lilholt for the integrity shown by him and his employees throughout the investigation.
The Commissioner did not hesitate to go beyond departmental charges to bring this matter to the attention of law enforcement so that it could be dealt with appropriately, Lungen said. The investigation is continuing and there may be additional criminal charges and/or disciplinary charges brought against other DPW employees.
The investigation began in December, 2000 when Commissioner Lilholt recognized that revenue did not square with the amount of vehicular traffic at the transfer station.
Lilholt turned the investigation over to law enforcement, who utilized surveillance techniques and actual DPW audits and computer records to nab Panich.
Panich, who was a five-year veteran of the DPW, was responsible for the collection of money from customers, the estimating of amounts of material to be deposited at the station and charging the appropriate amount for the size and quantity of material deposited.
The defendant was arraigned in Town of Fallsburg Court and remanded to Sullivan County Jail to be returned to Town of Liberty Court yesterday.