Hornell Partners for Growth issues statement after Former Executive Director charged with grand larceny

Corning Bureau

HORNELL, N.Y. (WETM) – Hornell Partners for Growth Chairwoman Michelle Pogue has released a statement after the organization’s former executive director was charged with grand larceny.

According to the New York State Comptroller, Michelle “Shelly” Stevens allegedly stole $1,711 from the HPG’s Annual Fourth of July festival and earmarked for the city’s Business Improvement District.

Stevens has been charged with Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Stevens worked at HPG from 2014 to 2018, and served as the Almond town clerk in Allegany County.

With recent events regarding Hornell Partners for Growth (HPG) and the former Executive Director, I feel it’s important for HPG to provide a statement regarding these events that will hopefully provide clarity. There may be some uncertainty or misconceptions regarding the circumstances and timeline of events. We have permission from the DA to provide this information.

First and foremost, the current HPG BID Manager, Valorie Whitehill has no involvement, connection or correlation to the events. Val has done an amazing job since starting at HPG in January of 2019. She is dedicated to the position, working 24/7 to facilitate free events for the public and hands-on support for businesses in the Business Improvement District (BID). The alleged incident took place in 2015 and the audit began in 2017, years before she assumed her position. Val remains committed to doing great things for the Business Improvement District in the City of Hornell.

Further, there have been many changes within our board with our leadership, involvement, and oversight. In 2018 I assumed the role of chairwoman and Mayor Buckley assumed office as mayor and became a member of the board. It’s an important distinction to note that many current members of the board and the city have worked hard day in and day out, assuming their roles and responsibilities after these events and the audit took place. There were changes made to the organization that may have been hard to accept. One large example is the fact that a BID cannot accept business members that are located outside of the district that was mapped out and approved by the state. Ours was approved in 1996. This was hard to accept as it was different from what was experienced previously. It’s important to know we have regulations and guidelines to adhere to and that was a major focus when I assumed the office of chairwoman.

To provide some clarity regarding events and alleged criminal acts by Ms. Stevens, I felt it may be helpful to provide a timeline of events:

July 4th, 2015 – cash collected for use of the bounce house and rock-climbing wall at Veteran’s Memorial Park event.

July 7th, 2015 – The former director allegedly deposited $1711 of the proceeds into her personal account.

February 2017- New York State Comptroller’s office notified the City of Hornell via phone that their office will perform an audit of the City.

March 2017- The City audit began with the Comptroller’s Office reviewing all operations of the City to determine the scope of their audit.

Early summer 2017- During the City audit, the Comptroller’s Office reviewed the City’s practice of collecting monies through a special BID tax and transferring the funds to HPG. The Comptroller’s Office decided that HPG will be one of the scopes of their audit and the HPG audit began.

September of 2017- Mayor Shawn Hogan met with the HPG Board Members to share information regarding the audit of HPG by the State Comptroller’s Office.

December 2018 – Justin resigned due to differences in vision.

January 2019 – Valorie Whitehill was hired as BID Manager.

December 2019 – Comptroller’s Investigators hand over findings to the District Attorney’s office and New York State Police Investigators.

January 30th, 2020 – Arrest of Shelly Stevens, former director regarding $1711 deposited in her personal account and falsifying business records.

I hope the above information helped with any confusion, misinformation, or assumptions that may have been made. While the District Attorney speculated that the investigation may have come from a tip, the Comptroller’s office has told us that they initiated the audit of HPG in 2017 and the findings from the audit resulted in the investigation. I expect the Comptroller’s office to release the full HPG audit in the near future which will be available for the public to read.

The HPG Board, the City and myself look forward to a great 2020 with this being the 200th anniversary of Hornell being created and many great events are planned and scheduled. Events such as the Wildflower Festival on May 30th, July 4th events at Veteran’s Memorial Park, a Summer Fun Days on July 11th and August 22nd (200th party), our second annual Maple City Fall Festival on September 26th and of course, no one wants to miss the HPG/City Christmas Parade and tree lighting next to Santa’s Cottage on November 28th! The Business Improvement District is committed in our partnerships with the City of Hornell to provide the best for our businesses and our great community. This is not a forum and it is set up not to accept comments.

Thank you,

Hornell Partners for Growth Chairwoman

New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at investigations@osc.ny.gov, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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