BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - An audit revealed the operator of the Erie Basin Marina and Hatch Restaurant owe the city thousands of dollars. Now many are questioning how this alleged coverup went undetected for years.
The audit by City Comptroller Mark Schroeder not only accuses the operator, Brand-On Services, of ripping off taxpayers, but alleges the owner's spouse worked for the city's public works department - the same department that issued a lease to Brand-On Services.
Schroeder says Brand-On Services underpaid rent for the past five years and owes the city and its taxpayers more than $343,000.
The company's contract for the marina expires in December, so new bids will go out for a new operator next month. But what will happen to the employee who previously handled this account?
Mayor Byron Brown said, "An employee that was in place to oversee those operations will be transferred to another responsibility and a new person will be brought in."
City officials say internal changes will be made so this doesn't happen again.
In addition to hiring a new operator, an outside auditor will come in to monitor the marina's finances. The department of public works will also work with the audit and law department to clarity any ambiguous language in the contract.
Rene Wolasz owns Brand-on Services. At the time her company was awarded the contract for the Erie Basin Marina, her husband Michael was an employee for the public works department. But Commissioner Steve Stepniak says it didn't create a conflict of interest.
Mayor Brown agrees.
"We have a general request for proposals that goes out and those that have the experience or the lowest responsible bidder are the ones that are considered to move forward," Brown said.
Wolasz' daughter, Julie, says her family has not received the official audit from the city yet. Until they receive the document, Julie says there will be no comment. However, she says if the company owes any money, they will pay it.
If the money is not paid, officials say legal action could be taken.
Mayor Brown says any company can now put a bid in to take control of Erie Basin Marina.
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