Auditor: Alvo official used public funds to pay mortgage

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Little Car Show

The annual Alvo car show, which includes a pancake breakfast and a lunch, is the annual fundraiser for the village’s volunteer fire department. The state auditor this week accused the department’s fire chief and village board member of misappropriating nearly $18,000 in village funds.

In a letter to the state auditor in May, Alvo trustees admitted the village’s finances were in disarray.

A former village clerk for the Cass County town of 132 pleaded guilty to altering her paychecks in March 2018, embezzling a reported $39,000 from Alvo’s public accounts over a three-year period.

Responding to an auditor’s investigation early last year, the Alvo village board said it was also cleaning up messes left by Ginger Neuhart, who died shortly after pleading guilty in 2018, as well as a former board chair accused of failing to submit an audit waiver to the state.

But Thursday, State Auditor Charlie Janssen’s office accused two sitting board members — Benjamin Glantz and his wife, Taylor — of misappropriating nearly $18,000 in village funds over more than 20 months.

A review of Alvo’s finances showed the couple allegedly used fire department accounts to make mortgage and credit card payments and buy personal items. The report also alleges they wrote and cashed checks to improperly reimburse themselves.

The state auditor’s office referred its findings to the Nebraska Attorney General, the State Patrol, the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, as well as the Cass County Attorney. No charges have been filed.

Attorney Tim Noerrlinger, who represents Benjamin Glantz, declined to comment Friday. Glantz did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

According to the auditor’s report, the Glantzes had full control of a bank account belonging to the Alvo Fire Department, as well as an associated debit card, beginning in April 2018.

In October 2018, four large transactions were made electronically to vendors that appeared personal in nature. The largest, for more than $3,800, was to Home Point Financial for past-due payments on the Glantzes’ home mortgage.

During a Dec. 16, 2019, interview with auditors and a state patrol investigator, Benjamin Glantz said the payment was made when the family was having a difficult time.

The auditor also flagged two payments of $500 to credit card companies during the same month.

“I was in a bad place,” Glantz said, according to the report. “Life was pretty thin then, and it was really tough.”

Auditors also said several checks written by the Glantzes on behalf of the village — one for $721 to pay for T-shirts for 4-Corners, a private fire company owned by Benjamin Glantz, another for $1,000 to reimburse for tools — were also cashed by the couple.

A day after $1,080 was paid to the Alvo Fire Department in June 2019 for conducting fire and emergency standby services at the Lancaster Event Center, the village paid $1,088 to Glantz’s company, the report indicates.

Glantz reportedly told investigators the private company, which also provides a fire and safety crew at Eagle Raceway, used village property and was run through his bank account.

The report also raised questions about a debit card opened through the fire department’s bank account in August 2018. While auditors concluded some of the 150 purchases were likely legitimate, they found a majority of the transactions appeared to be personal in nature.

Bank records show the debit card was used at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals; at stores such as Menards and Home Depot; fast-food restaurants Burger King, McDonald’s and Taco Inn; as well as the Tack Room bar in Lincoln.

The path that led to the latest findings is long and winding.

In its May 2019 letter to the state auditor, the village of Alvo laid blame for much of its financial disarray at the feet of its former chair, David Morgan, who it said had refused to file an audit waiver as required by state law.

Morgan, in a phone interview Friday, said in the wake of the 2018 embezzlement, which also affected the communities of Ithaca and Memphis, that he favored the state conducting a further audit “to find out just where we were.”

But, Morgan said, he was outvoted 3-1 — with both Glantzes voting no.

At the time, the board and Morgan, who then was captain of the volunteer rescue squad, were embroiled in a dispute over whether or not the department was under the control of the village.

Chartered in 1976, the rescue squad operates independently of the fire department, Morgan said, but has housed its ambulances and equipment in the village fire hall free of charge for several years.

During an emergency meeting of the village board Oct. 22, 2018, both Glantzes and Robin LaPage voted to suspend Morgan and his wife, Karen, from the rescue squad and ban them from the fire hall as it sought to assert control over the ambulance service.

Those votes were later thrown out by Cass County District Court Judge Michael A. Smith, who sided with Morgan that the meeting had been conducted improperly.

Another lawsuit filed by Morgan asking a judge to determine if the volunteer rescue squad is operated by the city or independently managed is set for trial in April.

Until a decision in that case is reached, the state auditor said “the fragmentary nature of the village financial records” made a review of the rescue squad’s finances impossible.

But as it was preparing to audit the rescue squad, however, Janssen’s office discovered ongoing control and compliance issues in Alvo and had been contacted by several individuals concerned about how public funds belonging to the fire department were being spent.

One of those individuals was Morgan, he said Friday.

Others, including a former board chair and a fire chief, also raised concerns at how the department’s bank accounts were dwindling, Morgan said, as well as how money from a car show fundraiser was being spent.

Reached Friday, LaPage, the current village chair, said she was told not to comment by the city’s attorney.

Journal Star reporter Lori Pilger contributed to this report.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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