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UPDATED: Jail deputies plead guilty
Geneseo, N.Y. --- Eight of the nine Livingston County Jail Deputies who were arrested by New York State Police on Friday appeared in Geneseo Village Court on Monday morning and entered guilty pleas as part of a pre-arranged deal. (The one outstanding deputy was unable to appear in court as he was out of the state on a job interview. He's expected to appear in court at a later date.)
The arrests were the result of a nearly 18-month investigation into suspected timecard fraud and shift-swapping among personnel in the Livingston County Jail. The allegations were that deputies worked shifts for each other, sometimes in exchange for cash, and their timesheets did not accurately reflect the shifts that were or weren't worked.
13WHAM News has obtained and substantiated internal emails that suggest jail supervisors and senior administrators were well aware of certain shift swapping practices and insisted that deputies seek approval for such swaps. 13WHAM News also has obtained county documents also speak to years of understaffing at the facility that, during the target time period of this investigation, was run by the now retired Jail Major James Rose, Undersheriff James Szczesniak, and Sheriff John York.
Questions raised by the community, and even by a judge in open court, are focused on why thus far no supervisors or administrators were charged with a crime.
"There is not one section in the penal law and trust me when I say we looked, that would apply to the members of the administration based on the information we had," said Greg McCaffrey, Livingston County District Attorney. "There is no charge that fits the conduct they had they authorized lying but they did not endorse the pay for hire."
"The 9 people that were arrested and there is clear criminal conduct that can be proven in court. I absolutely think there were other people paying," said McCaffrey. "But again, we can't prove it and I'm not about to base a criminal charge on pure speculation. The documents we have, the thorough investigation by the NYSP support criminal charges solely against 9 people. There was no one else we felt we could actually charge and then subsequently think we could get a conviction in this matter."
Shift Swaps & Guilty Pleas
All nine deputies arrested resigned their positions at the jail prior to their arrest on Friday afternoon. Each was charged with one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree. The Class A Misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of up to one year in jail.
On Monday morning seven of the charged deputies pled guilty to a violation charge of Criminal Solicitation in the 5th Degree. The condition of that plea was that each had already resigned their position, admitted what they did as it pertained to their timesheet, and accepted a court related surcharge of $125. The judge did not impose an additional fine.
The deputies accepting that plea were: Joe Agosto Jr., Kyle Fisher, Timothy Fraser, Jeremiah Pratt, Thomas Schledorn Jr., Michael Simpson, and Marvin Yamonaco. The same plea is expected for William "Billy" Baker but he was unable to attend court. Each man will have his record sealed following this plea and the violation charge is akin to a speeding ticket as it pertains to severity.
A ninth deputy, Andrew Eichhorn, was not offered the same deal as the District Attorney noted in court that there were far more instances in the case of Eichhorn. He pled guilty to the charge he faced, Offering a False Instrument for Filing 2nd Degree, and is scheduled to return to court next month for sentencing. The probation department will look at whether restitution payments to the county are necessary between now and then according to D.A. McCaffrey.
"I feel that justice is not served"
After entering his guilty plea in court Marvin Yamonaco asked the judge if he could say one thing. The judge allowed him to.
"I took a guilty plea today and I feel that justice is not served," Yamonaco said.
That sentiment was echoed by the whispers, words, and demeanor of other deputies and their supporters in the courtroom on Monday. It was also echoed by Village Court Justice Thomas Bushnell who openly questioned D.A. McCaffrey before the pleas were entered.
Judge Bushnell asked why the state police report showed this was common practice in the jail for nearly twenty years and yet only deputies were being arraigned on charges and no supervisors were present in court.
"The Court is saddened that people who were in a paramilitary organization and had orders given to them had to go through this," Judge Bushnell said in open court while accepting guilty pleas. "The person or persons who allowed this to happen retired to the shadows with accolades and testimonials."
"I was told in judge school that there were days you will hate being a judge and this is one of them," the judge continued while also noting that he is also an elementary school history teacher and history has its lessons. "The people that to pay the price are often not the ones who are responsible for what happened."
"There was certainly a tacit understanding," said Kevin Van Allen, a lawyer who represents five of the deputies charged. "I mean how can it be that if I'm scheduled to show up for work and then someone else shows up at briefing and works my shift, how could they not know? How could they not approve that if they let it continue?"
The questions about how much supervisors know led Van Allen to say that his clients believe former Livingston County Sheriff James York should be among those answering to charges.
"It's hard to imagine a scenario where they didn't know and thus did not approve what was going on. So were they accomplices to it? I guess there's a view of the law that perhaps but I'm not in a position to make that call," said Van Allen after court. "These guys walked in and were open and honest believing that this was something that was going on throughout the entire department so they didn't have anything to hide and they still don't, they never intended to defraud the taxpayer or have any personal gain from this whole thing, they wanted a day off from work."
Internal Emails and County Documents
13WHAM News has obtained a series of internal emails and substantiated them with sources. Many include specific references to how a supervisor or manager must approve any swapped shift. The emails date back to 2007 and include correspondence with the now retired Jail Major James Rose, jail sergeants and corporals, and even the now retired Undersheriff James Szczesniak.
One email thread dates back to 2009 and the subject line is "Pay for work." A jail corporal writes to some staff that "From this day forth! You will not be allowed to work for a full time employee if you are schedule(d) to work either of the shift's before or after the one you are being asked to work. This is something that is not negotiable. The Major is ready to ban it from happening at all!"
A reply to that email one day later appears to come from a jail sergeant and it states:
"This would only take a little thought, lets not abuse this any further and chance loosing a good thing. If you get scheduled by the Major, Myself or one of the Supervisor's this takes priority and other arrangements must be made for any favors. Again this IS NOT a negotiable item."
Understaffing at the jail is another claim being made by some of the men accused of crimes in this scheme. Meeting minutes from Livingston County Board of Supervisors meetings between 2010 and 2013 make repeated references to jail staffing and recommendations from the NYS Commission of Correction.
At one meeting the minutes reflect the following:
"Sheriff York explained that the proposal the NYS Commission of Correction (COC) was making was far from reasonable. He indicated he is a friend of the COC Chairman, and he has agreed to give us a one-year abeyance to prove that we can monitor the inmates with the reduced staffing. The COC initially wanted the County to add another eight Correction Officers, and now they are requiring us to hire one Full-Time Female Correction Officer and two Part-Time Correction Officers. The County Administrator (Ian Coyle) stated he supports this and it gives us a temporary reprieve to determine if this staffing level is appropriate."
Many more details and a response from Livingston County D.A. Greg McCaffrey expected tonight on 13WHAM News at 5 & 6.