UPDATE*** Thursday, January 7, 2010 - the corrected full version of the Arbitration Award PDF document is below. The original scan had missing pages
On October 27, 2005 Vilma Rivera-Saez began working for the City of Hartford in the Tax Collector's Office. Everything appeared to progress smoothly as she worked her way up to supervising cashier in the Tax Office.
At some point prior to August of 2008, Ms. Rivera-Saez apparently began noticing cash shortages in the daily cash receipts. Sources familiar with these shortages told me that Ms. Rivera-Saez had noticed suspicious activities by another employee in the cashier's office, and allegedly reported these suspicions to, at the time, Acting Tax Collector and Deputy Finance Director Lydia Rosario.
This attempt at reporting the thefts and suspicious behavior to Lydia Rosario was apparently the start of a chain of events that resulted in the eventual termination of Vilma Rivera-Saez from the City of Hartford.
According to the State of Connecticut Department of Labor, Arbitration Award (full report attached below)numerous details raise more questions than answers.
Apparently the person that was allegedly suspected by Rivera-Saez and others in the Tax Collector's Office, according to the report and City Hall sources, was a fairly new employee in the office, Yordano Vazquez. Whether Rivera-Saez knew Yordano Vazquez's ties to acting Tax Colector Lydia Rosario before raising her suspicions is unknown, but according to the Arbitration Award report, Rosario and Vazquez were very tightly connected.
The report details that both Mr. Vazquez and Lydia Rosario, the Tax Department head at the time, were both congregants of the same church. If that wasn't enough, the report states that Mr. Vazquez "is engaged to be married to Ms. Rosario's niece".
During the course of the hearing, testimony was entered stating that the city was unable "to account for more than $12,000 in cash shortages from July through December 2007". Although the city never produced any information or evidence that showed Rivera-Saez was in any way responsible for the thefts, on August 4, 2008 she was terminated from her position.
The interesting part is that although Rivera-Saez, as well as others, were complaining to Acting Tax Collector Lydia Rosario about their suspicions, Vilma was the one branded a thief. The arbitration panel apparently didn't buy that accusation. They state that "Although the City implied that the grievant (Vilma Rivera-Saez)had "stolen" money through an improper deposit scheme, there was no evidence offered to show the grievant was, in fact, a thief".
The panel further questioned the degree of punishment handed out by Rosario and former Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann. The panel considered Rivera-Saez's "unblemished disciplinary record" and said it appeared that Rivera-Saez received the "ultimate level of discipline, termination" while the cashier, Yordano Vazquez, "was only given a slap on the wrist".
Although this whole report would seem to raise some serious "red flags" regarding the looseness of cash procedures and controls in the Tax Office, the way it was handled by the City Auditors and Administration is even more troubling.
In the summer of 2008, apparently before Vilma Rivera-Saez was terminated, the City Auditor Patrick Campbell began to investigate a series of cash shortages in the Tax Collector's Office. Campbell's investigation revealed a scheme in which checks were substituted for cash in several daily deposits made during the month of November 2007.
Campbell apparently found that "someone" was taking cash out of the daily receipts and replacing the cash with checks received in the mail. Campbell testified at the hearing regarding the scheme "It operated by, say for instance, cash of $1,000 was received, just for instance,during a particular daily transaction. What happened was that some of that cash,a check coming in from and outside source, in this case coming in through the mail, was taken and was placed in that batch of cash, swapped out from the batch of cash. They took $500.00 out of the cash, put the check in there so it would still equal $1000.00".
Although Campbell's investigation showed clear criminal activity on the part of individuals in the Tax Collector's Office, no mention was made during any testimony as to an investigation or any inquiry by the Hartford Police Department. HPD sources have confirmed that no request for an investigation was ever made by acting Tax Collector Rosario or Auditor Patrick Campbell nor was an investigation into over $12,000 in stolen cash ever conducted.
Although no evidence ever pointed to Vilma Rivera-Saez indicating she had any part in the thefts, the Union brief quoted in the report indicates she was singled out by acting Tax Collector Lydia Rosario who was "looking for a scapegoat" and "simply blamed the grievant( Rivera-Saez)rather than her niece's fiance".
One hearing officer,Attorney Marc S. Mandell, in his written opinion stated "The scheme was not terribly sophisticated or difficult to understand...the scheme collapsed as it inevitably had to, given how clumsy it was".
The scheme was clumsy, as was the City's response and subsequent investigation. Many questions are still unanswered, the real thief has not been identified or prosecuted and the money has not been recovered.
In the end, the Board decided that "the City of Hartford did not have just cause to terminate Vilma Rivera-Saez".
It seems like someone with a little common sense could have realized that right from the start.
The entire report on the Arbitration Award is below
Arbitration Award Vilma Rivera Saez