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Audit that led to Sims arrest shows other risks in Syracuse parks dept.

File Photo
Syracuse City Auditor Marty Masterpole.

Suspended Syracuse parks commissioner Lazarus Sims was charged with third-degree grand larceny after an audit from City Auditor Marty Masterpole found money missing from the department. The audit also revealed other areas where the department is at risk for errors and fraud.

Masterpole said the Syracuse Common Council came to him with an initial red flag about the parks department that turned out to be nothing. But in the process of conducting the audit, Masterpole said they found something else.

“The largest takeaway of course was that there was a cash payment made to one of the facilities that was never deposited into the general fund,” Masterpole said.

Masterpole said a local lacrosse league was asked by Sims to pay cash to rent the Burnet Park indoor turf facility. Then, the audit said the commissioner requested the league’s scheduled dates be deleted, even though the events had taken place. Masterpole went to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office with the findings.

“While a sad situation, I think it’s how government is supposed to work with checks and balances,” Masterpole said.

Sims is accused of stealing $5,400 in cash. He has pleaded not guilty.

Masterpole said more protocols need to be in place about who can access the parks’ online system and when they can delete information. Also, he said there is a long standing practice of commissioners waiving rental fees of facilities for certain groups at the commissioner’s discretion.

“My recommendation is please negotiate this so that there is proper legislation in place, so that a future commissioner doesn’t get themselves jammed up by doing the work of trying to get kids into the parks,” Masterpole said.

The parks department also does not allow credit card payments for fees, which can total thousands of dollars.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.