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Auditor Makes Recommendations to the District Attorney's Office

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An audit of the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office released Monday found that improvements were needed to the office's internal controls and recording of forfeited funds.  
 
The audit covers the period from July 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018, and was requested by former District Attorney Paul Caccaviello shortly after his March 2018 appointment.
 
"As Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington takes the reins of the office, I encourage her to use this audit as a roadmap for improvement," State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said in a statement. "The recommendations in this audit will ensure the office quickly receives revenue due it is owed, and help to strengthen its defenses against risks that could threaten its ability to accomplish its goals."
 
The audit notes that some forfeited funds were not remitted to the district attorney's by law enforcement in a timely manner. Under state law, certain funds used in illegal activities, including the purchase and sale of controlled substances, are subject to forfeiture by the commonwealth. In some cases, it took up to 780 days after being court-order for these funds to be transferred to BCDA. This issue was first identified by Bump's office in a 2014 audit.
 
Auditors selected at random 20 forfeitures totaling $90,664 from a population of 76 forfeitures totaling $266,631 received during the audit period and identified that that took more than 30 days to be collected.
 
"Because forfeited funds are in cash, not recording them within one bank cycle (30 days, or one month) increases the risk of theft or loss," the audit notes, adding, "As a result, BCDA and local law enforcement agencies went without funds to which they were entitled for an extended period."
 
The auditor's office is recommending that the district attorney's office remind assistant district attorneys that it is their responsibility to notify the chief of Appeals and the office's director of Fiscal Affairs of all forfeitures ordered by court motion in a timely manner and that the office modify its policies to ensure all forfeitures be tracked via the District Attorney Management Information Office Network.
 
In its response, the office acknowledged there were delays "from date of order to deposit" but that procedures had improved since the prior audit. It is currently reviewing the DAMION system for better tracking that would include motion hearings. 
 
"We would like to note that some delays from order to deposit are due to appeals filed by the defendants or the need to resolve matters with co-defendants who may have claim to the same forfeited funds and will be more diligent in noting this on orders so reasons for any such delays will be readily apparent," the office responded.
 
The audit also found the office's internal control plan (ICP), an agency-wide document that summarizes risks and controls for all business processes, has not been updated since 2016.
 
The document — including the internal environment statement, goals and objectives, identification of risks/challenges, and mitigation steps — are required to be updated annually.
 
The office had contracted with a third party to review the document and make recommendations on updating personnel policies and procedures in June 2017 but the inability of all parties to meet until December of that year and then the turnover in March and again in November, delayed any action, according to the office's response.
 
"We have advised the newly elected district attorney, Andrea Harrington, of this audit finding and have begun the process of aiding her new administration on their updated plan with the audit recommendations," the response states.
 
The audit also looked at the Victim Witness Assistance Program; reporting of variances, losses, shortages, or thefts of funds or items to the Office of the State Auditor; budgeting practices; financial expenditures; and information technology inventory, and found all were in compliance with either internal or state procedures.
 
"I am grateful to the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump for coming to Berkshire County last year to perform an audit of the district attorney's office," said District Attorney Andrea Harrington in a statement. "We are working closely with the state auditor to implement tighter controls and look forward to welcoming her back to Pittsfield soon so she can see the changes."
 
The district attorney's office serves 32 cities and towns in western Massachusetts and operates from a Superior Court, three juvenile courts and three district courts. During the time period the audit covered, it had a budget of about $4.2 million and 56 employees. 

 

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Wetlands Derails Restoration of Pontoosuc Beach

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wetland issues have derailed planned improvements to Pontsoosuc Lake Park.
 
The Friends of Pontoosuc Lake received $15,000 from the Community Preservation Act with the intent to restore the beach on the Hancock Road side. The city's Parks, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath, however, said it was found that the former beach has essentially turned into wetlands.
 
"We can't disturb that area of Pontoosuc Park," McGrath told the Parks Commission on Tuesday.
 
McGrath said the way the drainage currently is in the park has led to wetland soils and plants covering the former beach so it is now treated as a resource area. McGrath said options now would be to re-orient the stairway and create another beach in another location. But, "it is going to be an involved project."
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