QUEENSBURY — The former director of the Lake George Watershed Coalition on Wednesday turned down a plea deal offer for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds, despite a judge’s warnings that he could face decades in prison if convicted.
David J. Decker would have served a 5- to 15-year state prison sentence for his guilty plea to felony counts of grand larceny and tax fraud.
He also would be required to make full restitution for the money he is accused of stealing, which amounts to an estimated $440,000, and for the state income taxes he is accused of not paying.
Decker had no interest in the plea offer when Warren County Judge John Hall outlined it to him in court on Wednesday, replying “I will not accept the offer.”
Hall then advised him that he faced 25 to 30 years if convicted of the weightiest charges against him, and he would not have a chance to accept the offer going forward.
“That’s off the table,” the judge said.
Decker replied that he understood, and Warren County Assistant District Attorney Ben Smith informed him the offer was then withdrawn.
The case against Decker has been pending for 21 months, but the plea offer represents the first substantive talks to resolve the case without a trial. An offer was made at Hall’s urging.
There had been no indications Decker would admit guilt, as he has steadfastly maintained the charges are the result of a “misunderstanding” about how the grant process worked and he was paid money he was owed.
The charges allege, however, that some of the money he is accused of stealing was paid to a shell company he created that didn’t do any work or provide materials for any environmental projects. He also is accused of not paying income taxes on the money he claims he was rightfully paid.
Decker’s lawyer, Joseph Brennan, said after the hearing that a trial was anticipated. He made a new motion earlier this month, seeking to dismiss the charges. The motion argues Decker’s “constitutional right to due process” is being violated because prosecutors haven’t detailed the allegations against Decker with enough specificity to allow him to prepare a defense.
The District Attorney’s Office is contesting the motion.
Decker, 67, of Burnt Hills, faces counts of grand larceny, corrupting the government, tax fraud and falsifying business records in a 22-count indictment. He has been accused of diverting state and federal funding to himself over a period going back to 2012.
Decker has claimed the money he received was legitimate payment for his work, but he is accused of tax fraud for not claiming the money on his state taxes in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Lake George Watershed Coalition is a loosely organized group of public and private organizations that helped push projects to protect and enhance water quality on and around Lake George. Decker, an engineer, led the organization as an independent contractor from 2001 until his arrest last year, working much of the time from an office in Lake George Village Hall. He is no longer involved with the coalition.
Questions arose about finances during his tenure, as Warren County awaited state funding reimbursement for a number of projects and a state audit rapped a number of towns for lax oversight of the coalition’s funding.
Jury selection is to begin Jan. 7. Decker is free on bail, pending further court action.
QUEENSBURY — Low pay and expensive health insurance is leaving the Centers nursing homes understaffed, workers said as they picketed outside the Glens Falls Center on Wednesday.
At times, only two aides — rather than four — are working a daytime shift on a floor, and they can’t get to residents when they need to be helped to the bathroom, said certified nursing assistant Angela Benson.
She’s seen patients try to get to the bathroom alone while others end up urinating in their beds, if no one quickly responds to the call button.
“It’s a fall risk, and it’s a dignity issue,” she said.
According to Medicare.gov, 4 percent of the patients at Glens Fall Center have fallen and sustained a major injury. The average for nursing home residents in New York state is 2.9 percent, and workers who picketed blamed the high number of falls on poor staffing.
“The problem is turnover. Then we have low staffing,” Benson said.
Picket organizer Melissa Tambasco, who does not work at the facility, told the group that the owners of the Centers nursing homes won’t agree to increase wages for CNAs. The wage starts at $12.50 an hour.
“We know we can’t compete with those wages because people are leaving here to go five minutes down the road,” she said.
On that salary, health insurance is also unaffordable, Benson said. A family plan is more than $200 a week, which is $10,400 a year. For full-time workers making $12.50 an hour, the insurance is about half their weekly paycheck. That’s before paying for medical care.
“So you have like $100, $200 left to live on,” Benson said. “And the plus-one is cheaper, but they want to get rid of that, so we’ll only have single or family plans.”
Benson has worked at the nursing home for six years, from long before Centers Health Care purchased it in 2017.
“I stay here because I love my residents,” she said.
She and the other CNAs and nurses are also a family, she added.
At nearby nursing home Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs, CNAs said they are being paid more than $14 an hour.
Glens Falls Center officials declined comment on the picket, directing a reporter to contact the corporate office for Centers Health Care.
The corporate office sent out a statement saying that negotiators were working on a new contract with the employees, who are represented by 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. Centers bought five local facilities and is trying to create a contract that covers all five.
“Due to the complexity of negotiating five separate contracts for five different facilities at one bargaining table, the process has taken longer than expected, as issues vary for each facility,” said spokesman Jeffrey Jacomowitz in the statement.
“We have made substantial progress and are confident that we should be able to iron out our differences at the bargaining table,” he added.
The employees picketed on their own time, after work or on a day off. About nine employees participated, supported by a few other union members from other units.
Jacomowitz emphasized that the employees did not leave their patients to picket.
“We want to assure our residents, families and the public that the residents continue to be cared for by our dedicated and caring staff, and we are confident that, together, we will come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement very soon,” he said.
FORT EDWARD — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office plans to offer training to the public starting early next year on how to respond in the event of a mass shooting.
Sheriff Jeff Murphy said two officers attended a training earlier this year for “civilian response to active shooter events,” a nationwide program designed to teach people how to react if they are attacked by an armed person in a public setting.
The first training will be offered to Washington County employees in December, and the Sheriff’s Office hopes to host its first training that would be open to the public in January, the sheriff said. The trainings will be free.
The principles of the program are to teach those who might be caught in an active shooter situation how to properly “avoid, deny and defend” if need be.
The “avoiding” portion explains how to get out of a building quickly, by knowing exits and other potential ways out. The “denying” training teaches ways to keep a shooter from getting access to victims, such as using makeshift barricades, while “defending” focuses on the worst-case scenario of having no option but fighting an armed attacker.
“It incorporates lessons learned from shootings around the country,” Murphy explained. “It’s sad that we even have to think about it.”
Murphy said sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Carroll, who heads the agency’s emergency response team, and Patrol Officer Josh Whitney attended the training and will be the local instructors.
Argyle Supervisor Bob Henke, chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors, said training that county leaders have received about shootings led to a discussion about how to get that information to all county employees.
“It’s good information to have,” he said.
County Attorney Roger Wickes said being prepared at the Municipal Center will also include new security features, such as more security cameras and an ability to lock down the entire complex if needed.
“We want to keep people out who need to be kept out,” he said. “When we have the physical part of it set, we will start training people on what to do.”
Murphy said the Sheriff’s Office also took part in a training Wednesday night in Greenwich, known as “Stop the Bleed.” Medical experts gave instruction on how members of the public can get trained and equipped to help in a “bleeding emergency,” such as a home or workplace accident.
The Greenwich Fire Department organized and hosted the training, which included an expert from Albany Medical Center.
The youngest children in kindergarten are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in early grades, a study shows, an intriguing finding for parents on the fence about when to start their child in school.
The study found younger students, especially boys, are also more likely to be started on medications for ADHD and kept on the drugs longer than the oldest children. The medications are generally safe, but can have harmful side effects.
“Doctors and therapists need to factor that into their decision-making,” said study co-author Dr. Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School. They should ask, “Does he really have ADHD, or is it because he needs six more months to mature? That extra year makes a big difference.”
About 6 million U.S. children and teenagers have been diagnosed with ADHD, which causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The rate of diagnosis is climbing.
The study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, stemmed from a lunchroom conversation about “kindergarten redshirting” for a co-author’s son. The term is borrowed from athletics and means waiting a year to give a child time to mature.
“The parents were thinking about whether or not to hold their child back an additional year,” Jena recalled. That led the researchers to ask, “What happens to kids who are in the same class who are perceived to be different?”
They used insurance claims to compare more than 71,000 students with August and September birthdays in 18 states with Sept. 1 cutoffs. A child who turns 5 before Sept. 1 can start kindergarten. If not, the child waits until the next year. An August birthday can mean a child is the youngest in class while those born in September are the oldest.
Overall, from birth to the first few years of school, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD was low. The researchers calculated that the rate of ADHD diagnosis was a third higher in August-born kids than in September-born kids, based on 309 cases among about 36,300 with August birthdays and 225 cases among about 35,300 born in September.
There was no group difference before age 4; it showed up after school enrollment.
The researchers also looked at asthma, diabetes and obesity rates and found they were the same for the August and September babies. And no other month-to-month comparison showed a sharp difference in ADHD.
Finally, using insurance data for more than 400,000 children in all 50 states, the researchers looked at states that don’t use a Sept. 1 cutoff and the effect disappeared.
“They did so many careful (checks) to make sure of their findings. It was really striking it was so consistent,” said Dr. William Cooper, a pediatrics and health policy professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who wasn’t involved in the research.
Cooper said younger children can have more trouble paying attention, sitting still and controlling their impulses. Compared to other kids, they may look like they have ADHD.
The study didn’t evaluate whether the children were diagnosed appropriately. The August-September difference could be a reflection of spotting actual cases of ADHD earlier in the August-born kids because of their early start to school, said Dr. Jonathan Posner, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
On the other hand, since there’s no lab test for ADHD, doctors rely on subjective observations from parents and teachers. A younger student may simply need time to catch up, but his immature behavior looks like ADHD and raises a teacher’s concern, said Posner, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“The information we receive about a child has to be interpreted within a developmental context,” Posner said. “A 4-year-old isn’t going to respond as well to academic challenges as a 5-year-old.”
ADHD stimulant medications are generally considered safe, Posner said, but some children have side effects such as lowered appetite, sleep troubles and afternoon rebounds of hyperactivity.
The study didn’t include kids covered by Medicaid, the government insurance program that serves 35 million low-income children. Other research has shown children on Medicaid are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, which may account for the low rates of diagnosis in the new study, Jena said.
Follow AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson on Twitter: @CarlaKJohnson
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