(Buffalo, New York) – Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw released a report detailing the results of his office’s investigation into the Erie County Division of Weights and Measures. The most serious allegation from a whistleblower that contacted the Office of Erie County Comptroller: inspectors were fining stores based on field inspections they never conducted.
It was also claimed that the Director of the division used the Weights and Measures garage as his own personal warehouse to store his privately owned, inoperable classic car, and that county employees worked on the vehicle during the work day.
Another safety concern brought to the attention of the Office of Erie County Comptroller is that employees regularly smoked cigarettes inside the Weights and Measures garage, even though they store hundreds of samples of gasoline and other highly flammable materials.
The investigation began in late April after the Comptroller’s Office received the allegations pertaining to the abuse of power within the division.
“The allegations brought forth came with enough information that I felt comfortable executing an immediate investigation. Auditors were dispatched to the Weights and Measures Office the next day to secure documents,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
After a thorough investigation that included multiple site visits and the sworn testimony of division employees, the Comptroller’s Office was able to confirm those allegations and note several serious violations within the division. Including:
- Purposely ignoring state and federal inspection guidelines that led to fines because, as the Weights and Measures Director confirmed in a personal interview: “It’s a waste of time…it’s almost insane to try to do that.”
- Sending reports to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets claiming these stringent inspections that can only lead to fines are being conducted, when in fact workers and the Weights and Measures Director confirmed in interviews they are not
- Storing and performing maintenance on a personal vehicle for many months
- Smoking in the Weights and Measures Garage near highly flammable materials like gasoline
- Improper controls over inventory
“One of the most troubling findings was the division’s blatant disregard for the adopted policies and procedures that govern how they are supposed to perform their jobs,” said Mychajliw. “The Director himself and workers admitted they did not conduct the rigorous inspections required to levy fines on businesses.”
Inspectors in the division regularly visit local businesses to verify the accuracy of their scales and the contents of the packages and products they sell. The goal is to protect consumers to make sure they’re paying for the exact amount of product that’s being put on store shelves.
“Our investigation revealed that management within the department took shortcuts on adopted policy and arbitrarily enforced regulations. Stores may have been improperly fined for problems with products that they had nothing to do with on their end.”
The division has two types of inspections they can conduct when visiting small businesses. One is a minimal “audit test” and the other is a more rigorous “official test.” All employees and the Weights and Measures Director himself stated under oath that while they regularly perform audit tests, they never perform official tests.
According to the adopted state and federal regulations, the less rigorous “audit tests” are designed to determine if problems exist with individual packages. The “official test” is designed to determine who is at fault for the defect. A local store may find that they have boxes of cereal on their shelves that aren’t the correct weight for what the package advertises.
County inspectors may notice this and flag the violation. However, according to the regulations adopted by the State and Erie County, the business cannot be fined unless a more thorough official test is conducted that proves who is at fault, the seller or the manufacturer.
The Division Director has submitted reports to the State of New York that indicate these official tests have been performed, when in fact they have not. Employees were questioned about those reports and verified, under oath, that they did not perform official tests.
“The regulations are clear. Erie County cannot take enforcement actions against businesses unless official tests, the more rigorous inspection, are conducted to determine that stores are at fault. It is very clear Erie County is improperly fining businesses based on less rigorous inspections. It needs to stop,” said Mychajliw.
The investigation also confirmed that the Division Director’s personal vehicle, a 1966 Buick Riviera, was being stored in the heated county garage for the winter. According to the Director’s testimony, the car was delivered to the garage in mid-December in inoperable condition. It remained in the garage until mid-April.
Question: “How long was the care in the garage?”
Director: “I think it was December 15th that the delivery was made and I just got it out of there permanently ithin the past week.” (Interview conducted on: 4/29/14)
According to the testimony of multiple division employees, workers assisted the director with trying to fix the vehicle during the workday.
“One worker referenced a near two week period of employee ‘down time’ at the end of the year where employees spent portions of their work day helping the Director fix his private car. This abuse of taxpayer’s time and resources is unacceptable. The Director cannot use a county garage as his private storage facility. County employees should not be fixing their boss’s vehicle during the work day,” said Mychajliw.
Site visits and employee testimonials also noted several violations of the county’s smoking policy. Not only were employees smoking on county property, they were smoking indoors near highly flammable gasoline samples that were being tested for local gas stations.
As part of the investigation, Comptroller Mychajliw also met with senior officials in the Office of New York State Comptroller to share the findings and express his concern that this problem may exist statewide.
“The Director noted that he doesn’t think anybody is doing the work correctly, because it would be impossible to do so. I don’t take penalizing businesses financially lightly. That concern needed to be shared,” said Mychajliw.
The investigation also revealed very poor controls over the division’s inventory. Several items appeared missing, incomplete and some were reported stolen.
The Comptroller is now asking that appropriate disciplinary action take place against the Director for storing his personal vehicle on premises and for working on it during the workday. The Comptroller also is asking the State Comptroller to review the findings and explore whether or not testing procedures are flawed statewide.