Ulster County district attorney Holley Carnright is dismissing accusations of financial mismanagement by political rival Jonathan Sennett as a ploy concocted by “a desperate candidate” and fellow Democrat county comptroller Elliott Auerbach in a last-minute bid to win votes.
“He can’t talk about the issues, he can’t talk about his qualifications, so he’s inventing something that isn’t there,” said Carnright on Monday, four days after Sennett lobbed the allegations at a press conference in Kingston.
At the heart of Sennett’s claims is a six-month standoff between Carnright and Auerbach regarding protocols for the handling and disbursement of so-called “confidential investigative funds” used by the DA’s office to pay informants and bankroll undercover operations. The two elected officials came to loggerheads in February when Auerbach launched an audit of financial controls at the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices following the arrest of former Kingston police detective lieutenant Tim Matthews. At the time, Matthews was accused of stealing $9000, including investigative funds, from a safe at police headquarters. He was later indicted on multiple felony charges alleging a decade-long pattern of theft of investigative funds amounting to more than $200,000 in taxpayer money.
After meetings in February with Carnright and sheriff Paul Van Blarcum, Auerbach announced that he was freezing further disbursement of investigative funds until he was assured that effective written protocols for such disbursements were in place. In a series of written exchanges, Carnright asked Auerbach to detail problems with the protocols he had showed him at the February meeting. Auerbach responded that without a copy of the protocols in writing he would not release further funds.
It was not until seven months later, on September 21, Auerbach said, that he received the written protocols and released $1000 in investigative funds which Carnright asked for in March. Carnright said he believed that he had adequately addressed the issue of financial controls in his February meeting, and added that the protocols he showed Auerbach then — and which had been in place since 2008 — were the same ones he had submitted in writing last month.
“I had the protocols in place, and frankly I got annoyed with the whole thing,” said Carnright. “I’m a busy person.”
While the county-controlled budget line was frozen, Carnright said that his investigative team was able to draw funds from a separate “off books” account containing about $14,000. The money was part of a settlement shared with prosecutors around the state by the Manhattan district attorney’s office regarding the retail sale of knives and other dangerous weapons. The account, Carnright said, was kept separate from county coffers — and Auerbach’s oversight — to comply with the conditions of the settlement which stipulated the money could only be spent on confidential investigations. Carnright said that Auerbach had been aware of the account’s existence at least since the spring, when he advised him that the money needed to be moved from a local savings bank to a commercial bank. He added that Auerbach receives monthly bank statements from the account and money from it has been used to fund a gun-trafficking investigation.