Housing official faces grand larceny count

A former North Country Housing Counsel finance manager was arrested Tuesday for allegedly using a work credit card for more than $8,000 in personal spending, including restaurant and liquor store purchases. W.T. Eckert/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — A former North Country Housing Council finance manager was arrested Tuesday by state police for allegedly using a company credit card to make personal purchases amounting to more than $8,000.

Troopers charged James D. Spear, 54, of 180 Newton Road, Potsdam, with felony third-degree grand larceny.

Troopers said between November 2017 and January 2019 he stole about $8,702 from North Country Housing Council, 19 Main St., by making unauthorized purchases using the council’s credit card, which was assigned to him for authorized purchases only.

He was arraigned in Town Court by Justice Michael R. Morgan where he pleaded not guilty to the charge and was released under probation supervision.

In a statement to state police Investigator Christopher M. Nye, Mr. Spear said, “I just used the credit card. It was dumb. I’m sorry for what I did. I thought the amount was around $1,000, though.”

But North Country Housing Council Executive Director Annette H. Bowman told authorities that the spending, which spanned more than two years, included purchases from Slic.com, Route 11 Trucking, Emlaw Tire & Auto, Tractor Supply, Monroe Muffler, T&R Liquor, Autozone and Progressive Insurance, along with numerous local convenience stores.

“He made a purchase at Little Italy in Potsdam on New Year’s Eve when ou(r) office is not even open,” Ms. Bowman told police. “We do not own a company vehicle and do not have insurance with Progressive.”

The discovery of the alleged misappropriated funds came after Ms. Bowman said an auditor ceased an audit of the organization’s books for unknown reasons.

Ms. Bowman said the audit, conducted by Abbott, Frenyea, and Russell, Plattsburg, began in October 2018, at the start of their fiscal year which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. They ceased the audit in February.

John Parcell, a board member for the council,reached out to the auditor to ask what the issue was, and he was told they could not give a clear opinion on the books and suspected fraudulent charges with a credit card, Ms. Bowman said in a statement to investigators.

Mr. Purcell asked Ms. Bowman to pull the credit card statements for the last year and a half, specifically for Mr. Spear, who was employed with the housing council approximately between June 2016 and January, along with three years of bank statements.

At that point, Ms. Bowman identified Mr. Spear as a former finance manager.

Ms. Bowman said she and current director of finance, Brook Binion, discovered the “numerous questionable and unauthorized charges with the company credit card” from Community Bank N.A. specifically assigned to Mr. Spear, between the dates charged by state police.

“James Spear was allowed to use the credit card for travel purposes only, which would include lodging, travel, and meals,” Ms. Bowman said. “James Spear was the only person authorized to use this credit card and actually around February 2019, I asked James Spear for the credit card back . . .”

He returned the card and the account has since been cancelled, Ms. Bowman told police.

Everyone at the council has their own credit cards which are paid in full at the end of the billing period with one check.

Following a search of all the other accounts, Ms. Bowman said there were no other questionable or unauthorized purchases by other employees.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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