Erie County government sends $108,000 to email scammer

Erie County

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — The Erie County District Attorney has launched an investigation and the Erie County Comptroller is on the defensive after a check for $108,000, intended for a construction contractor, was intercepted by an unknown email scammer.

“It’s unfortunate that the Public Works Department fell victim to a scam,” said Stefan Mychajliw, the Erie County Comptroller, who puts all the blame on the Department of Public Works. The comptroller’s office sent the check for $108,000 even though it should’ve gone to Mark Cerrone Construction, which is doing masonry work in the basement of the Rath Building.

But on August 2, a scammer sent an email that was purposely one letter off from an email used by Mark Cerrone Construction claiming that any future checks to Cerrone should be sent to a new bank account. The County Department of Public Works forwarded the scammer to the office of Comptroller, and when it came time to send the check the comptroller’s office sent it.

“That’s exactly how the process is set up,” said Mychajliw. “We rely heavily on all our departments to approve work, make sure work was done and the accountants in other departments make sure that the information is correct and we actually pay those vendors after the work is done.”

But Erie County Executive, Mark Poloncarz says the comptroller’s office should’ve done more. “It’s not just disappointing, it’s completely unacceptable. As the former comptroller, I know there should be protocols in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen. You just don’t get an email and change banking instructions based on an email. You confirm it. You call the vendor to confirm they changed their banking instructions.”

The Erie County Attorney, Michael Sirgusa, has sent a letter to the Erie County District Attorney asking for a criminal investigation to pursue recovery of the funds. The District Attorney’s confirms the investigation is underway.

The man running against him for Hamburg Supervisor is now calling on Mychajliw to step down as Comptroller.

“I believe that he’s been distracted,” said Randy Hoak. “He’s been distracted by his campaign for Hamburg Supervisor. he’s been using the communications capacity for the office in an attempt to run for Hamburg Supervisor, and I worry what damage he could do post-election to the comptroller’s office and the taxpayers of Erie County.”

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

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