Corruption in local government is a hot topic in the Town of Sweden, right now, because of the strange behavior of the Sweden Town Council.
But any discussion of corrupt town government must include a comparison to Hampton, Florida, which CNN reports is the most corrupt town in America.
Unfortunately, the comparison does not paint a pretty picture of Sweden’s town government.
Hampton, which has a population of only 477, is located on busy Route 301 in Bradford County in rural north-central Florida.
Sweden, which has a population of 14,175, is located on busy Route 31 in suburban Monroe County in Western New York.
Although the two communities are not similar geographically, other comparisons show startling similarities.
A state audit of Hampton, released last month, exposed rampant corruption and mismanagement. The audit found 31 violations of Hampton's city charter, along with multiple violations of state and federal laws.
The corruption in Hampton includes nepotism, sloppy bookkeeping, and a failure to maintain records.
It also found that Hampton officials failed to withhold payroll taxes and failed to insure city vehicles. The audit also found questionable payments to the city clerk, and questionable charges on an official credit card.
The Town of Sweden hasn’t been audited by New York State yet. But a number of Sweden residents have already submitted the forms needed to have the New York State Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau launch just such an investigation.
“You can’t make this stuff up.”
People are fed up, and these similarities between Hampton and Sweden show why.
Mayor arrested – Supervisor arrested
Hampton has had its Mayor arrested. Sweden has had its Town Supervisor arrested.
Hampton Mayor Barry Layne Moore was arrested in November when he sold illegal drugs to an undercover agent. Moore resigned in disgrace.
Sweden Town Supervisor Nat “Buddy” Lester was arrested in March 2009 for failing to file his federal income tax returns with the IRS. Lester resigned in disgrace.
Corrupt court - Traffic tickets
Hampton is an infamous speed trap. Hampton makes huge amounts of money through a corrupt court that sucks up thousands of dollars from traffic tickets.
In 2011, Hampton took in $268,624 from traffic fines. But despite the windfall profits, the city operated at a deficit.
Sweden is also infamous for making huge amounts of money through a court that sucks in thousands of dollars from traffic tickets.
Sweden doesn’t have a police department, but the Village of Brockport does. Brockport doesn’t have a Village Court, so the tickets issued by the Brockport Police are processed by the Sweden Town Court.
For decades, it has been an incredible cash cow for the Town of Sweden.
In 2009 for example, the Town of Sweden collected $442,330 in fines from the traffic tickets written by the Brockport Police Department.
By law, New York State received the bulk of that money (56.24%). But Sweden retained $174,751(39.51%) of the money from the fines, even though the town did not contribute a single cent toward the cost of the Brockport Police Department.
That same year, Sweden only remitted $18,800 (4.25%) of the fine money to the Village of Brockport, which bears 100% of the cost of operating the police department. All of that money was from parking ticket fines. The village got no money at all from traffic ticket fines.
Despite the windfall profits, the town claimed that the town court operated at a deficit.
Then in June 2012, Sweden Town Court Judge Carl Coapman was observed to be intoxicated while presiding over a court hearing.
In an apparent cover-up, Sweden Court Clerk Terri Gay refused to allow anyone to have access to tape of the hearing, and referred all inquiries to Town Attorney James Bell.
Bell sat on those inquiries until Judge Coapman resigned suddenly in January 2013 after serving 15 years as a town judge.
Sloppy bookkeeping – slipshod accounting
Water is the one utility controlled by the city of Hampton , but Hampton officials say that they have no water meter log books prior to April 2012 because they were “lost in a swamp” in a car accident.
Sweden officials say they have no idea what happened to hundreds of parking tickets issued by the Brockport Police Department.
All too often, the Brockport Police Department wrote the parking tickets, and then nothing happened after that.
Many of the tickets just vanished, even though the Sweden Town Court is required by law to process the tickets and track down any scofflaws.
For example, in 2009, the Brockport Police issued 1,610 parking tickets, but the Sweden Town Court only processed 928 of those tickets (57.64%).
Incredibly, when the Brockport Police Chief asked for an explanation, no one in the Sweden Town Court had any idea what had happened to the other 682 parking tickets (42.36%).
Then, on February 29, 2012, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle published the complete police report filed about a box of confidential information missing from the Sweden Town Clerk’s office.
The cardboard box contained nearly 200 parking tickets, which had inexplicably been stored on the floor under the desk of the Deputy Town Clerk Kathy Roberts instead of being processed.
The story was so unusual that it was reported by the Dallas Morning News; even though Dallas is 1,422 miles from the Town of Sweden.
The Village of Brockport has since hired a collection agency to collect the past due fines, and has also started the process of establishing a Village Court to ensure proper enforcement of the law in the future.
The New York Times reports that almost everybody in the Hampton government seems to be related, and sometimes the same seems to be true in the Town of Sweden.
In Hampton, former city clerk Jane Hall is the mother of the former maintenance operator, Adam Hall, who also ran the water system. She is also the wife of Charles Hall, a longtime city councilman.
In Sweden, Deputy Town Clerk Kathy Roberts is married to new Town Councilman Don Roberts.
Walter Windus, the Building Inspector PT/Code Enforcement Officer for the Town of Sweden, is the father of Council-woman Danielle Windus-Cook, who is a real estate agent in town.
Sweden’s brand new Superintendent of Highways Brian Ingraham, who was appointed to the position after his former boss was forced to resign in a sex scandal, is married to Cindy Ingraham, who works as a real estate agent for Council-woman Danielle Windus-Cook.
Councilman Robert Muesebeck, also works for as a real estate agent for Council-woman Danielle Windus-Cook.
Failure to maintain records
In Hampton, officials demanded cash payments for water bills, and then offered no receipts.
In the Town of Sweden, the situation was different, but with similar results.
Last year, the Village of Brockport finally got fed up with the way the Town of Sweden has mishandled parking ticket revenues, and hired a collection agency.
Then collection notices were sent out to the owners of the vehicles that had been ticketed. Almost immediately, the Village Clerks received dozens of phone calls from people who said that they had already paid their tickets.
Many had receipts to prove it. It turned out that the problem was caused by the Sweden Town Court's sloppy record keeping.
Instead of using a computer to track the tickets, the court clerks simply put the tickets into two cardboard boxes, one for paid tickets the other for outstanding unpaid tickets.
These are the same cardboard boxes that contained the confidential parking ticket information that disappeared in 2012.
Needless to say, the goofy system didn’t work and the tickets got mixed up, with paid and unpaid tickets in both cardboard boxes.
Moreover, the Sweden Town Court failed to report the parking fines to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, as required by law.
The town didn’t start reporting the fines to the State until January 2012, after Village officials had discovered that the parking ticket revenues did not show up in the Comptroller’s monthly reports.
To make matters worse, the Town of Sweden had always paid the Village of Brockport for parking fines in a single check issued at the end of the year. Since hiring the collection agency, the Village has received monthly checks, as it should have received from the Town of Sweden.
Who knows what else will be exposed when the State Comptroller conducts an audit of the Town of Sweden?
If you want to find out, join the growing chorus of Sweden residents who have reported the shenanigans in Sweden to the New York State Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau.
• Click here to open the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau’s Complaint Form.
- Fill out the form and describe the situation on the Sweden Town Council that you think smells fishy.
- If you need more space than the form provides, use a blank sheet of paper to type more information.
- Print the form and any additional sheets of paper.
- Mail the form and the additional sheets of paper to:
Office of the Attorney General
20 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10271
Then wait for the fireworks to begin.