Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2011

WBLS Inquiry: Is fraud the issue?

Image of ISB check to City for $15,000 with explanatory memo.
I am no lawyer, but to my mind the question shaping up in the Plainfield City Council's inquiry into the $20,000 payment to WBLS for broadcasting a town hall meeting is whether Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs defrauded Investors Savings Bank (ISB) or misappropriated the funds given by them to the City.

Though Robinson-Briggs chose not to attend the City Council's special meeting Wednesday evening looking into the $20,000 WBLS payment, there is no doubt she was the metaphorical 'elephant in the room', and the question arose as to what Investors thought the check was for and the use to which Mayor Robinson-Briggs put it.

But let's begin at the beginning.

The meeting was called to order by Council President Annie McWilliams at 8:15 PM with Councilor Reid the only member not in attendance and promptly dispatched its only other item of business, a resolution granting permission for the Plainfield High School marching band to march in the street from the high school building to Hub Stine Field for home games. (Was the omission of the pledge to the flag an oversight or by design?)

The Council then went into executive session with its special attorney, Ramon Rivera, and resumed the public meeting about fifteen minutes later.

Rivera outlined the procedure for the evening, stating that the meeting was neither a hearing nor a trial, but was 'an interview' which he would conduct on behalf of the Council.

He then outlined the circumstances of who had been served (or attempted to serve) subpoenas --

  • Bibi Taylor, former City Administrator
  • Dan Williamson, Corporation Counsel
  • Sandra Cummings, Acting CFO (at the time)
  • David Spaulding, Purchasing Agent
  • Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs
Rivera reported that Mayor Robinson-Briggs evaded service at her office and the process server evidently had the wrong home address (this is worth a separate note, since Her Honor is widely known to have a home on Pemberton Avenue) but that her attorney agree to accept service and that she would appear at a future date. Cummings could not be served because of an incomplete address (the server did not have her apartment number), Spaulding was served and expected Wednesday, though he did not appear. Both Bibi Taylor and Dan Williamson were in attendance; Taylor agreed to be interviewed publicly and on the record; Williamson opted for meeting in executive session.

A certified court stenographer, using 21st century methods,
kept a record of the proceedings.

Rivera then interviewed Ms. Taylor at length about the circumstances surrounding the Community Forum, when she became aware of it, and the Mayor's actions in getting a check cut late on Friday, July 30 for the August 1 event.

Ms. Taylor carefully outlined the sequence of events from when she first learned of the community forum (at a July 21st cabinet meeting) to the Mayor's frantic and curse-filled efforts on Friday July 30th to get a check cut.

Highlights included --

  • Mayor Robinson-Briggs making a call to Union County Prosecutor Romankow seeking funds (none were forthcoming);
  • Confusion over how many checks were needed (two were initially proposed), the amounts of each ($16,000 and $4,000), what they were for and the payees (WBLS and WLIB);
  • Audit & Control staff searching for available funds;
  • Purchasing agent Spaulding failing to return Taylor's calls seeking information;
  • Instructions by Mayor Robinson-Briggs to Taylor in a 1:47 PM call on July 30 to use cell phones only, not city lines (because conversations would be retrievable?);
  • A 'carnival of errors' scenario in identifying available unencumbered funds -- finally zeroing in on the Information Technology budget;
  • Mayor Robinson-Briggs' initial refusal to sign Taylor's memo documenting the situation (calling it a 'CYA' -- cover your ass -- memo).
Mr. Rivera also asked Taylor to explain the possible scenarios under which a payment could be processed, the proper procedure in requesting and making a payment and all the accompanying paper trail, as well as whether the Council need have played a role if funds were being transferred from one account to another (Taylor said 'yes', though Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson publicly defended the shift at a Council meeting).

To me, the most dramatic moments were when Mr. Rivera showed Ms. Taylor several documents, asking her to identify what sort they were, who signed them and their place in the whole matter -- including a purchase order signed by IT Director Chris Payne and Mayor Robinson-Briggs.

Rivera also produced a copy of a check from
Investors Savings Bank, dated July 30, in the amount of $15,000 and payable to the City of Plainfield, Division of Parks & Recreation, with a memo of 'Plainfield Rec/Br 06 7/4 Sponsorship'.

Rivera said that he had spoken with a representative of
Investors Savings Bank Wednesday afternoon, who confirmed that the check was for fireworks for the July 4th celebrations.

And that, it seems to me, is where everything now gets interesting.

Did Investors know Mayor Robinson-Briggs would apply the money to the WBLS event or not?

If not, did Mayor Robinson-Briggs misappropriate the funds or defraud ISB?

I think it certain that Mayor Robinson-Briggs and any others who are interviewed by Mr. Rivera will want to do so in executive session.

So, we must trust Rivera will get to the bottom of everything the Council needs to know and that the Council will evaluate any further steps that may need to be taken carefully and with an eye to the greater public good.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

My question to anyone in the city who might be in a position to know: show me the invoice. It's inconceivable to me that Investor's would cut a check for what they surely claimed as a charitable or marketing expense without an invoice or acknowledgement memo of some sort. Everybody needs back up for the feds. OK, let's see the invoice: what is it for, when was it dated, who sent it, when was it received. Since it's unlikely that we'll ever get to see Investor's copy, let's look at the city's copy. They do have a copy, right? Very unlikely that Bibi, who knew she was in the middle of something that sooner or later would hit the fan (and being counseled by her lawyer husband) would leave town without making sure there was a paper trail.

(BTW: the word that I now have to verify to get comment approved is – SQUIRM. Google really is scary.)

Anonymous said...

It's bad enough that's the mayor's a crook but she's incompetent as well. Who waits until 4:00 on a Friday afternoon to get a check written that you know must be presented upfront for your own event happening on Sunday?

Anonymous said...

Looks like her honor's ass will be going to jail! Good news for all who value honest stewardship of the public's money and transparency in government.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can write anything on a memo line of a check. It means NOTHING to the bank. Banks are not the custodians of "memo" notations so the bank did nothing wrong. I am not a lawyer. Just a voice of reason.

What really bothers me, besides the what I see as fraud, is why Plainfield would want a race-baiting racist like Al Sharpton to be involved at all.

Plainfielders should realize that Al Sharpton gets RICH off of race baiting. He is no friend to anyone and certainly not to African Americans.

Anonymous said...

Take the keys and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up. Take the keys and lock her up, Mayor Lady.

Anonymous said...

So were there fireworks or not? If not, then money was diverted. If yes, then what's the big deal? It was just money from the pot. How much taxpayer money is being wasted on this witch hunt? And at this point I'm sure Bibi will say anything to screw Sharon.

Anonymous said...

To 10:19a - In my opinion, Plainfield did not NOT want Al Sharpton here, the publicity seeking, drama queen of a mayor wanted him here.

Rob said...

You know, another nice thing to do to expedite how Investor's Savings Bank treats information regarding this entire situation is continually mention the possibility of criminal activity, malfeasance, wrong doing or illegal activity with Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs as then when you google either ones' name google will show the entire mess with both their names..I am sure Investor's Savings Bank would not want to be associated with anything that was improper, illegal, or criminal with regard to Plainfield or Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Anonymous said...

9:33 you don't get an invoice for a charitable donation. A letter of request, sponsorship levels maybe but an invoice. Sorry wrong, wrong wrong!

Anonymous said...

Al Sharpton points outs what already exist. He does not create the instances of racial injustice he highlights. If it didn't exist there would be NOTHING to bait. I like him. His purpose that day was to motivate responsible fatherhood, neighborhood and community.

Anonymous said...


Walt Hetfield said...

To "anonymous" who says we should leave the mayor "aloan". Well let me break it down to you: She DOES NOT do good for the "communisty". If you don't believe me, take a ride down to Randolph and Park and look at a deserted hospital. That happened on her watch. Is Plainfield a safe community? No, it's a shooting gallery. Did the whole Al Sharpton visit change one thing? No it just made it look like she was trying to do something. She is ill equipped to run the city. She makes Plainfield a laughing stock - but you know it's no joke. She is a fraud that is finally getting caught being what she is - incompetent.

Anonymous said...

SO STOP PAYING TAXES ALREADY! All the whining in the world will change nothing! Why does no one take this seriously? You are paying for this mess! Stop paying and they will have to change their tune!