Decker's accountant says he didn't steal money

Decker's accountant says he didn't steal money

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QUEENSBURY — An accountant hired by David J. Decker’s defense team testified Friday he found no evidence of fraud when reviewing Decker’s financial interactions with the Lake George Watershed Coalition.

He concluded the municipal members of the coalition owe Decker $247,711.

Stephen Ferraro told a Warren County jury hearing Decker’s fraud case that the company Decker created, which prosecutors allege was used to steal nearly $100,000, was an “accounting mechanism” for billing during Watershed Coalition projects.

“It was merely an accounting mechanism, a way to distinguish services and tasks he was performing,” Ferraro testified. “The money all went into the Lake George Watershed Account. The billings were all part of a fixed-price contract.”

Prosecutors showed earlier in the trial, though, that Decker transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Watershed Coalition account to his personal accounts.

Ferraro also expanded upon the defense’s leading theory for the theft allegations throughout the case — that Decker’s “lump sum” or “fixed price” contracts allowed him to take whatever money was left over from projects as a “profit,” in addition to charging hundreds of thousands of dollars in management fees.

He said Decker actually “lost” more than $13,000 on the $1.2 million wetland project at the former Gaslight Village property, although he collected more than $240,000 in management fees on that project.

Ferraro’s testimony was in stark contrast to testimony from a state auditor earlier this week.

The state forensic auditor concluded Decker stole at least $200,000 over several years by repeatedly submitting the same invoices to access grant money, “upcharging” when filing contractor bills and funneling money to a company he created, Empire State Materials & Supply, which prosecutors say provided no goods or services.

On cross-examination by Warren County Assistant District Attorney Ben Smith, Ferraro had no explanation for why Decker did not use his address or phone number on Empire State vouchers, instead using a post office box and mailing center fax number.

“There is nothing on there that takes you back to David Decker,” Smith pointed out.

Decker also did not reveal his relationship with Empire State when asked about it at a 2017 Queensbury Town Board meeting, Smith showed.

Ferraro also testified about claims that Decker filed false tax returns, saying he didn’t include income from municipalities because he wasn’t issued tax documents for it and didn’t claim hundreds of thousands of dollars from youth basketball leagues he ran, because he lost tens of thousands of dollars through the leagues.

And he told the Warren County jury an analysis of funds remaining in Watershed Coalition accounts showed that the towns of Queensbury and Bolton and village of Lake George owe Decker $247,711 for work he did before his arrest.

Decker, 69, of Burnt Hills, was executive director of the Watershed Coalition for 16 years, ending with his arrest by Warren County sheriff’s officers in March 2017.

He oversaw numerous environmental projects to protect the Lake George watershed, including a manmade wetland that was part of the Charles Wood Park project. He is accused of looting more than $250,000 in state and federal grant funds while overseeing the projects.

He faces eight charges, including counts of grand larceny, scheme to defraud, corrupting the government and offering a false instrument for filing.

The corrupting the government count is the weightiest charge, punishable by up to 25 years in state prison.

Testimony is to resume Monday, with Ferraro still on the stand for cross-examination. Decker may testify as well.

Don Lehman covers police and court matters, Warren County government and the outdoors. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or dlehman@poststar.com

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