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Police find no ‘criminal offenses’ at Assessing Dept.

NASHUA – After investigating a series of allegations Berkeley Street resident Laurie Ortolano made about the city’s assessing department, Nashua police cleared the office of any “criminal” wrongdoing.

This is according to a police department intradepartmental communication obtained by The Telegraph.

“It was a very intensive investigation – one I hope I never have to go through again,” Administrative Services Director Kim Kleiner said of the inquiry into the department she oversees.

After declaring there was “insufficient probable cause” to believe any crimes took place, police closed their case, which Kleiner said is a relief.

Ortolano began questioning certain operations and practices within the assessing office more than a year ago, going so far as to pay private investigator William Freyler about $8,000 to track department employee Greg Turgiss.

Later, in June, Ortolano and fellow department critic Laura Colquhoun reported alleged illegal actions to police.

The specific concerns brought forward involved:

• Alleged fraudulent mileage reports;

• Alleged theft of wages;

• Alleged bribery; and

• Alleged witness tampering/intimidation.

“Had the city itself just been up-front, this might not have gone to the police,” Ortolano said.

Ortolano claims Kleiner refused to provide the public with answers, which pushed the situation into a criminal investigation. Ortolano said several individuals, herself included, contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. She said officials there told her to go to the police.

“My disappointment is, you can’t use a local police department to investigate their own city,” Ortolano said.

However, before the investigators’ findings were summarized in intradepartmental communication, Ortolano compiled substantial documentation through Right-to-Know requests from the assessing department. City leaders commissioned an audit of the department, conducted by Chief Financial Officer John Griffin and Kleiner, who at that time was chief of staff to Mayor Jim Donchess.

After completing the audit, city leaders eliminated the position of chief assessor, occupied by Jon Duhamel, which also resulted in his departure as an employee of the city of Nashua.

With no one leading the department, Kleiner took the role of acting administrative services director. This meant she also supervised these departments: Purchasing, IT, GIS, Risk Management and Human Resources.

GREG TURGISS

During the course of their investigation, police said they were determined to put concerns regarding Turgiss’ alleged activities to rest.

City officials hired attorney Mark Broth to conduct an independent investigation into Turgiss’ mileage reports and work logs.

Police said that while investigating alleged fraudulent mileage reimbursement reports, they reviewed Turgiss’ logs and used Google Maps to find the shortest possible distances it would have taken him to visit properties.

“In doing so, it was found Turgiss had not overreported any of his mileage and actually under-recorded the mileage on some days,” the intradepartmental communication signed by police Lt. Daniel Mederos states.

City leaders will not answer direct questions regarding whether Turgiss faced any sort of disciplinary action regarding these concerns.

“That’s an internal personnel matter, and I wouldn’t be able to discuss it,” Kleiner said.

Investigators said they also debunked concerns Ortolano brought forth regarding the alleged theft of wages. In April, Ortolano alleged that she and Freyler observed Turgiss sleeping in his vehicle in parking lots in Nashua.

Turgiss is a salaried employee, meaning he is entitled to his salary regardless of the actual hours he works, as long as he works at some point during a pay period.

Investigators said they reviewed Turgiss’ timecard from when he clocked in at work during the month of April, adding that it listed his average workday began between 7-7:30 a.m.

Investigators said that in speaking with Turgiss, they learned he often used his lunch break to relax in his vehicle and sleep.

“In speaking with Turgiss’ supervisors and the Human Resources Department, it appeared that Turgiss was completing the work that was required and expected of him,” states the intradepartmental communication.

THE REST OF THE INVESTIGATION

Nashua Detective Frank Lombardi and Detective Sgt. Robert MacLeod were assigned to evaluate Ortolano’s concerns. They said they conducted dozens of interviews with assessing employees, former assessing employees, the property owners identified as allegedly receiving favoritism in their assessments, and even officials at the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration responsible for assessor certifications in the state.

Regarding allegations of bribery/favoritism in assessments, Ortolano believed the assessed values of several properties in the city had been changed without going through an abatement process.

However, investigators said assessing officials told them they were aware of the changes, and that such alterations had been approved by the city.

The property cards Ortolano alleged were involved in bribery/favoritism were reviewed and investigators discovered no issues with the data on the cards.

“In speaking with members of the assessing community from Nashua, the state level and independent agencies, they advised that changing the assessed value of a property for a data correction issue without going through the abatement process is an acceptable and common practice,” the intradepartmental communication states.

As for alleged witness tampering, former assessing employee Cheryl Walley reportedly told investigators she may have misinterpreted Kleiner’s intention of telling a story during a staff meeting.

Walley told investigators it was possible she had been the only one who interpreted Kleiner’s comments during the staff meeting as an indication they should not participate in the investigation.

“Based on all the information gathered during the course of this investigation, there is insufficient probable cause to believe any criminal offenses have occurred involving the Nashua Assessing Department stemming from the concerns raised by Ortolano. At this time, the Nashua Police Department will close this investigation,” the communication states.

CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

Meanwhile, assessing department employees have been working to complete an equalization study. Starting in early November, assessors had approximately 1,600 sales they were required to review for the equalization study. For each, they are required to complete the necessary information, verify sales and send it to the DRA.

Kleiner said there were more than 2,500 total sales for the area, but the DRA only requires around 1,600 to be reviewed. Assessing employees distributed more than 1,100 sales questionnaires to the individuals in question, and saw more than 300 return.

Kleiner said the assessors have been out in the community verifying sales to ensure they have the best possible information. Kleiner said this work had to be submitted to the DRA by Jan. 15.

“I’m glad we can just move forward,” Kleiner said. “We have a lot more things that we want to get completed. We have the reval (revaluation) around the corner.”

Richard Lehmann is Ortolano’s attorney, while he also represented Walley. Lehmann said this intradepartmental communication is a conclusion, but does not describe the details of the evidence. Lehmann said in the future, there will be more questions asked in terms of what the evidence is.

“This is a summary of evidence, and until the actual investigative materials themselves are available, it’s going to be hard for Laurie to know whether or not the investigation was done in a way that gives people confidence in these conclusions,” Lehmann said.

Lehmann said he and his client have filed a Right-to-Know request seeking the investigative materials.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.