$2,550 in gift cards remain unredeemed
Doherty: We were in the middle in the worst natural disaster in the history of New Jersey. Taking care of people trumps accounting principles
Mayor says he will ask ShopRite to replace lost cards
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office has found that the Borough of Belmar distributed ShopRite gift cards purchased with cash donations in the wake of Super Storm Sandy without following generally accepted accounting principles.
In a letter to Councilman Jim Bean dated July 11, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor John Loughrey said, “There is, however, every indication that the cards were not properly inventoried, adequately managed or or appropriately secured at any point after they were taken into custody of the Borough of Belmar.” Loughrey’s letter to Bean can be found here.
Loughrey said there is no evidence that any one person or groups misappropriated the Shoprite gift cards.
The Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation on January 31, 2014 after Bean discovered a $9,050 discrepancy in reports of how the cards were distributed. In answering OPRA (Open Public Record Act) requests from Bean, Belmar Elementary School business administrator Loretta Hill reported that the school received $7,950 in gift cards while Borough Clerk April Claudio said that $17,000 in gift cards were given to the school.
The Borough deposited cash and check donations received after Superstorm Sandy in a checking account at Central Jersey Bank. On November 14, 2012 an $18,000 check was issued to ShopRite on Rt 35 in Belmar in exchange for $20,000 worth of gift cards…400 $50 cards. However no one from the Borough ever counted the cards or recorded their serial numbers. The cards were left unattended in the Borough’s offices, at the Elementary School and at the Belmar Senior Center where cards were also distributed.
Loughrey’s letter says that according to Shoprite’s management, $2,550 in gift cards remained unredeemed. 13 cards with a value of $650 were returned by the Senior Center and are in the custody of the Belmar Police Department.
Bean, who running for mayor this fall against incumbent Matt Doherty, issued the following statement in his email which included Loughrey’s letter:
Many caring Americans reached deep into their pockets and donated hard-earned money to help the devastated citizens of Belmar survive. The prosecutors office not only documented a cover-up to keep this information secret, but also a serious lack of managerial oversight. This information has come to light after my year long struggle in OPRA court to find out how the donated cards were distributed. During this time I was repeatedly and publicly accused by Mayor Doherty of wanting to embarrass charity recipients. When the discrepancy was uncovered, Doherty, instead of expressing displeasure that the money was missing and trying to learn the truth, he used the occasion to attack me as being “against recovery”. I was lied to during the Jan 28th council meeting and in the information I received as a result of my OPRA request. No accountability was demanded by the mayor or offered by the administrator or social services director.
Please see the Jan 30th, 2014 edition of the Coast Star for the the mayor’s full quote and all the back.round to this story.
And an April 10th follow up:
Bear in mind that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy the government of Belmar borrowed tens of millions of dollars more than similarly situated towns and now wants to borrow seven million more dollars to build two modest boardwalk pavilions. It comes as little surprise that hundreds of residents, suspecting that their tax dollars are not being spent carefully, have signed petition after petition demanding a say in how their hard earned tax monies are spent.
Doherty has publicly defended Belmar’s refusal to disclose who received gift cards as a matter of protecting the recipients privacy. In an article last December about Belmar’s refusal to answer Bean’s OPRA request about the gift cards and other several other OPRA requests, Doherty told the Manasquan-Belmar Patch,
“Just as we do not publicly disclose the names of people who receive public assistance, we do not disclose who needed this assistance,’’ Doherty said. “Councilman Bean has made of political issue of this, and has constantly voted against helping families displaced by Sandy.”
In a phone interview this morning, Doherty said that in addition to the ShopRite gift cards, Belmar received perhaps $80,000 in other card donations that were distributed to residents and that many of those recipients names were recorded and provided to Bean after it was ruled that he was entitled to the information under OPRA.
“This is just another of Councilman Bean’s false allegations against me and the Borough,” Doherty said, “he’s filed numerous complaints with the State Attorney General and others. All of them false. This is just what Bean does. ”
“We were in the midst of the worst natural disaster in the history of New Jersey. Our focus was on helping people. Not on accounting principles. I am confident that all the donations we received and distributed went to people in Belmar who needed them.”
Regarding the $2,550 in unredeemed gift cards, Doherty said he became aware of them as a result of our call. He should he would ask ShopRite’s management to void those cards and issue new ones for distribution to residents in need. “I hope they are willing to do that.”