For­mer Brent’s Cove town clerk charged with fraud

Cou­ple con­cerned about how town han­dled fi­nances

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - EDITORIAL -

BRENT’S COVE, NL — For­mer Brent’s Cove town clerk Ellen But­ler has been charged with fraud and other re­lated charges.

She will ap­pear in court Nov. 28.

Mem­bers of the RCMP se­ri­ous crime unit in Corner Brook, work­ing on a com­plaint from the Town of Brent’s Cove, said Mon­day they have charged But­ler with fraud over $5,000, forgery, ut­ter­ing a forged doc­u­ment and fal­si­fi­ca­tion of books and doc­u­ments.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in June 2016. Fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity re­ported by the town was al­legedly dis­cov­ered by a foren­sic au­dit and led to the ad­di­tional charges.

The Tele­gram re­ported on trou­bles in Brent’s Cove last year and re­vealed de­tails of a foren­sic au­dit ob­tained by Michael Sul­li­van, who was su­ing his home­town in a dis­pute over back taxes he says he does not owe.

That small claims case was set over to Fe­bru­ary 2018 but has now been set­tled out of court.

It was pre­vi­ously re­ported that Sul­li­van filed the small claims civil suit for a burned­out hot wa­ter tank against his tiny cen­tral New­found­land home­town and got coun­ter­sued for back taxes.

The case led him on a pa­per trail that in­cluded a foren­sic ac­count­ing re­port in­di­cat­ing the town filed a claim on a $50,000-in­surance pol­icy to re­cover al­leged mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds.

No one had been charged with any wrong­do­ing at that time, but the RCMP be­gan con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the town’s fi­nances.

All of it fu­elled Sul­li­van’s drive to not give in on his civil fight.

“I am not giv­ing money to no one for noth­ing, es­pe­cially when I paid (my taxes). It’s go­ing to be a good fight, I will tell ya,” he said at the time.

The town’s mayor — Terry Sul­li­van, a cousin of Michael’s — would not dis­cuss the foren­sic ac­count­ing re­port or town taxes. He said he couldn’t dis­cuss the mat­ter be­fore the court case wraps up — the trial was set for June 12, 2017.

And the mayor said no­body be­sides Michael Sul­li­van had come to him with con­cerns about their tax bills.

He re­ferred ques­tions on the foren­sic re­port to the new town clerk, but the clerk was un­able to be reached at the time of the re­port.

But Michael Sul­li­van had plenty to say — he said he’s been to Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs, the cit­i­zen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive and even the hu­man rights com­mis­sion try­ing to get his con­cerns looked into.

Michael lives in St. John’s, but also has a home in Brent’s Cove once oc­cu­pied by his mother, who was then in a nurs­ing home. Fam­ily mem­bers use it from time to time, he said.

In May 2015, when he was open­ing the house for the sum­mer, he said he dis­cov­ered the town had shut off his wa­ter, but the town clerk of some 23 years — who is no longer em­ployed with the town — told him it was a wa­ter pres­sure is­sue and it was rec­ti­fied.

The Tele­gram had left mes­sages for the for­mer town clerk.

Michael’s habit was to dis­able the el­e­ment in the hot wa­ter tank when the home was un­oc­cu­pied, but a rel­a­tive who had used the house didn’t think to take that pre­cau­tion, de­signed to pre­vent the el­e­ment from burn­ing out.

When his spouse, Brenda Haas’ mother died that Novem­ber, the cou­ple dis­cov­ered their wa­ter had been shut off some­time in Oc­to­ber, ap­par­ently due to his al­leged un­paid taxes.

The cou­ple say they dis­cov­ered later only a few peo­ple had their wa­ter cut off, mainly those with pri­mary res­i­dences out of the town of about 90 homes.

“We had to call out and pretty well plead and beg to open the house — ‘We have to go out. My mother died. We got fam­ily com­ing. We need the house open,’” Haas said of the town of­fice. “They acted like they were do­ing us a big favour by turn­ing on the wa­ter.”

The wa­ter was turned on for a few days to ac­com­mo­date the griev­ing fam­ily. But the cou­ple said the wa­ter didn’t get hot, only luke­warm, which they say was due to the el­e­ment be­ing burned out.

This ul­ti­mately led to Michael Sul­li­van fil­ing his small claim suit against the town for the ru­ined hot wa­ter tank and some loss of use of the home as a re­sult.

Back taxes

Mean­while, the town’s coun­ter­suit says he owes back taxes — dat­ing back roughly a decade. At one point the con­tested bill was as much as $4,700, Michael Sul­li­van said.

But that had been whit­tled down now to $3,000 based on some re­ceipts he could found.

The cou­ple said on a trip out to Brent’s Cove, Michael would take money out of the bank and bring it into the town hall and pay his taxes. He didn’t keep track of his re­ceipts and ex­pected the town hall would keep copies.

The town had only re­cently started tak­ing debit pay­ments, Haas noted.

The cou­ple said he’d been dou­ble billed by the town, as he paid his taxes in full each year and was given no indi­ca­tion he was in ar­rears un­til the town hired a new clerk.

Michael Sul­li­van isn’t the only res­i­dent who claimed their wa­ter was cut off with­out cause.

Sandra Sul­li­van, who moved to Fort McMur­ray after her mid­dle-aged hus­band died in 2012, also keeps her home in Brent’s Cove for sum­mer vis­its.

She said she re­ceived a back tax bill for $2,200 in 2015 when she went home for a visit.

“I said, ‘No way in hell I owe this money,’” she said at the time.

“I had to pay it. I had no other choice.”

She said she paid the bill to get her wa­ter turned back on but in­sists she and her hus­band, a fish­er­man, had al­ways kept up with their bills. They paid the $750 yearly in cash in­stall­ments, paying larger sums in good fish­ing months. Sandra said in­stall­ment pay­ments were rou­tine for a lot of peo­ple in town, es­pe­cially se­niors.

“(The for­mer clerk) used to say to me she can’t give me the bal­ance — they got the books,


Michael Sul­li­van of St. John’s had a small claims court case against his home­town of Brent’s Cove and the town coun­ter­sued for al­leged back taxes. Sul­li­van amassed a pa­per trail, and he and spouse Brenda Haas were con­cerned about how fi­nances were han­dled in the town.

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