Westerly Finance Department worker charged with taking $8,400

Westerly Finance Department worker charged with taking $8,400

Record-Journal
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WESTERLY — A former Finance Department employee is facing charges that she deposited eight checks made out to the town into her personal account over approximately one year, leading to losses of $8,400 for the town.

Lisa Guarnieri, 52, of 7 Benjamin St., turned herself in to police Tuesday morning following an investigation into financial improprieties discovered by the Westerly Finance Department and school staff in early July.

She was arraigned in Fourth Division District Court on six counts of felony misappropriation of funds and two counts of misdemeanor misappropriation of funds. She did not enter a plea and was released on a promise to appear Oct. 13.

Court records did not indicate whether she had retained an attorney and a message left for Guarnieri were not returned.

Westerly police initiated an investigation in early July after receiving information from then-Finance Director Deb Bridgham and Superintendent of Schools Marc Garceau regarding possible fraudulent activities involving town funds, according to Westerly Police Chief Richard Silva. He said the department determined that on at least eight occasions, Guarnieri had used a mobile banking application to deposit checks made out to the town into her personal account.

“The pattern of behavior occurred on various dates over roughly a one year time period,” Silva said. “We reviewed financial information and it does not seem to extend back any further than that. The misappropriation would have occurred over a relatively short period of time.”

A 13-year employee of the Westerly School Department, Guarnieri resigned upon learning that she was the target of the investigation. Garceau confirmed Guarnieri’s resignation Tuesday afternoon. As an employee of the Westerly School Department, she was tasked with receiving and documenting various payments, officials said.

“Based on the information, we have concluded the investigation from our end and what we would be looking for,” Silva said.

Garceau said although the district is following the police matter closely, he could not comment on the case. He said the district will continue to monitor the situation and noted that since discovering the improprieties, the district has implemented additional financial controls and said others will be developed if needed.

“We are going to do what we have to in order to assure the integrity of all financial operations. We will do what we need to do to protect the taxpayer,” Garceau said.

Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy said elected officials had been kept apprised throughout the case, but that to protect the integrity of the investigation details of the findings were relayed only moments before police released information regarding the arrest to the public.

Kennedy said when it comes to restitution and other civil matters related to the case, he will now consult with Silva and Town Solicitor William Conley to determine the best option for the town and could not comment further.

The town, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans to restructure operations for separate municipal and school finance offices as had been the practice prior to consolidation several years ago. Council members have authorized Kennedy to request proposals from agencies to develop an Agreed Upon Procedure plan, or AUP, to make it as difficult as possible for this type of criminal activity to occur in the future. Costs for a detailed review of this nature are expected to range from approximately $40,000 to $50,000, he said.

Barbara Perino, a former 28-year employee of the Washington Trust Company, was hired as interim finance director on July 20. Kennedy said her expertise in areas of financial control played a role in her hiring.

“One of the core duties of the interim finance director is to review all procedures and controls,” Kennedy said. “Where they do not exist, she will create effective controls; where they do exist, she will be responsible for reviewing the controls and making appropriate revisions as necessary.”

Kennedy said in addition to the AUP, the town is in the midst of conducting its annual audit through Blum Shapiro. He said Perino is working directly with the company’s auditors during the annual process to further identify areas where procedures and controls could be further tightened.

The goal of these efforts, Kennedy explained, is to make sure the town has implemented best practices prior to hiring a new finance director to take over the department. He said the town aims to fill the finance director position with a full-time employee by October.

“We want to make sure all internal controls and procedures are properly in place in advance so that when the new finance director starts, the department is set up to have success,” he said.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com


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