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Liberty Township inundated with treasurer scandal

Susan Prasse

(12/26) Liberty Township supervisors reported they had terminated the employment of former township secretary-treasurer LeeEsta Shafer after discovering that she had "accidentally" overpaid herself in excess of $24,000.

During the December meeting, Supervisor Vice Chairman Robert Jackson said the situation may have been caught sooner but concerns about violating the Sunshine Act became an issue, saying

"Back in those days, the former supervisor (and now-deceased) Peter Foscato worked day and night to support the township, but he was worried about the Sunshine Act, because if two of us get together and talk it could be a violation. Peter did most of the work on the budget himself, and the supervisors were only able to look at it hours before it was approved," Jackson said.

"Consequently, we didn’t take the care that we should have, and the budget didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved." Jackson further said Foscato had been very ill at the time the overpayments began, and Shafer seemingly took advantage of the fact that (Foscato) put the budget together every year, and we, erroneously, as supervisors, did not scrutinize it as carefully as we should have, or we would have picked it up.

Jackson attempted to reassure residents the township was addressing the situation and pointed out that not only were they working with Smith Elliott Kearns & Co. on the audits, but had also engaged Gettysburg College Forensic Accountant Karen Frey. Jackson said, "We will have as many audits as it takes to find out whatever problems there are."

Both Jackson and fellow supervisor Mickey Barlow said the overpayments to Shafer, which dated as far back as 2012, totaled $24,174, with Barlow noting the difficulty in proving exactly how much money was lost in all. Barlow also reported that the township had already spent $5,500 on the payroll audit with Smith Elliott Kearns and Company, and estimated they could spend up to $13,000 should they decide to pursue a full forensic audit. "If it’s going to cost us $34,000 to recoup the $24,000 we lost, it’s not really worth it," Barlow said.

Liberty Township resident Donna Powers countered "So why are we doing all these audits when we can just give this to the police and say ‘Have at it?’" Adding, "We’ve got some serious issues here, and I think we should let the police take it." Barlow stated the township could not force the police to take action on the matter, noting the existence of an ongoing investigation. "What they do with that, we have no control over."

Powers then demanded to know what recourse the township has to recoup the funds that were overpaid. "We’re already doing it," said John Phillips, the township’s solicitor. "We have this audit in hand, and it’s been handed over to Shafer’s attorney with a demand for repayment. It will be sent to the bond company who insured her fidelity bond for a claim. This will also be forwarded to the district attorney."

"Shaking her head, Powers said, "It sounds like a mess." "It is a mess," Phillips agreed. Weather permitting, the next board of supervisors meeting will be held the on January 2, 2017.

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