Update: Justice court clerk expected to surrender to authorities Friday

Update: Christine Stulsky, a longtime Southold Town employee who recently resigned amid a DA investigation into the theft of money from the town justice court will be surrendering to authorities Friday, said a DA spokesman.

Ms. Stulsky will be arraigned about 11 a.m. Friday before Judge James Hudson in the Suffolk County Criminal Court building at the County Center in Riverside.

The exact charges she’s facing were not immediately known.

She is suspected of stealing “a substantial amount of money” while serving as the senior justice court clerk, sources have said.

District attorney Thomas Spota issued a statement early Friday saying analysis of paper and electronic records of the management of money continues.

“We are fortunate to have in the office meticulous professionals with investigative skills who are trained in forensic accounting and they have found evidence of asset misappropriation in this ongoing investigation,” Mr. Spota said.

Original story: The senior justice court clerk for the Town of Southold is responsible for the management of all court accounts. Handling receivables, bails and fines are among the many responsibilities of the job.

And while the elected justices are the public faces who essentially run the courts, the senior clerk holds a key position, overseeing the administrative functions of the office where four other clerks also work and which handles about $200,000 in revenue each year.

On Tuesday, the Southold Town Board accepted the resignation of senior justice court clerk Christine Stulsky, a town employee for more than 30 years, who is now the subject of a probe by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation. 

Ms. Stulsky, 64 — Southold Town’s second longest tenured employee and a former secretary for its Board of Ethics — is facing imminent charges that she stole from the town court for much of the past decade.

While many of the details of the investigation have not yet been released, including the amount of money she’s accused of stealing, DA spokesman Robert Clifford offered the following statement Tuesday afternoon, hours before the Town Board accepted Ms. Stulsky’s resignation, retroactive to March 19.

[Editorial: The proper steps toward protecting people]

“To date the investigation has covered the previous four years and the DA has decided to expand the investigation in terms of looking further back to establish over what period of time these thefts occurred,” Mr. Clifford said. “What our investigative auditors find in terms of theft would relate of course to the criminal charges the suspect will face.”

In an interview Wednesday morning, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is waiting for the details of the investigation to fully determine what preventive measures the town will take to ensure similar incidents don’t occur in the future.

“It’s very difficult to evaluate until we have all the facts,” Mr. Russell said.

But the town has begun its own investigation into the matter, voting Tuesday to hire AVZ Certified Public Accountants to conduct an audit of all justice court accounts. Mr. Russell said that while AVZ also conducted the town’s most recent independent audit, the scope of that financial review did not include justice court receivables, which he said are audited each year by the New York State Office of Court Administration.

Mr. Russell added that he believes the state court system will ultimately need to take preventative measures.

“We’ll be having discussions with the court administration,” he said. “This rests with them and this town wants answers.”

Ms. Stulsky has been on accrued leave since early March, which is when Mr. Russell said the DA’s office notified the town justices about the investigation. He said the town audit committee — which comprises the supervisor, deputy supervisor Bill Ruland and a community member — then met with the justices before the matter was brought before the entire Town Board in an executive session earlier this month.

The board approved Ms. Stulsky’s resignation Tuesday, though she had not yet surrendered to authorities.

“The timing of the resignation has no bearing on her pension,” Mr. Russell said, addressing concerns from the public. “That criteria is determined by the New York State Retirement System. If you’re vested, you qualify.”

Ms. Stulsky did not answer the door at her home in New Suffolk, where laborers were working on her house this week. She also did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Ms. Stulsky’s base salary this year was about $58,000 for a 35-hour work week, according to the town’s most recent civil service contract, though online records indicate she made more than $60,000 in gross pay in each of the past three years.

In 2006, she was appointed unanimously by the Town Board to serve a one-year term as secretary to the Board of Ethics, a paid position of five additional hours per week. A motion to appoint her to a second term in that position was withdrawn in January 2007 amid concerns over the procedures of the board, which had not held a formal meeting in over two years, according to a Jan. 4, 2007, Suffolk Times report. The Town Board accepted Ms. Stulsky’s resignation from her role with the ethics board that same week and her replacement was appointed at the following Town Board meeting.

Mr. Russell said he was not aware of any concerns with Ms. Stulsky’s performance in her role as secretary of the Board of Ethics and that she resigned voluntarily from the position. He called the ethics board era a “frustrating time.”

“We had an ethics board that never met,” he said.

Court records indicate that the year Ms. Stulsky served as Board of Ethics secretary was also a difficult one for her financially. On June 28, 2006, while working at Town Hall, she was served with a summons to appear in court regarding a retail credit card on which she had defaulted, according to a court affidavit. That September, the court ordered the town to withhold income from Ms. Stulsky to satisfy the debt, according to a judgment filed in Suffolk County Third District Court. Ms. Stulsky also appeared in Nassau County court the same year over a default judgment on a loan from the Bank of Scotland, according to Nassau court records.

Mr. Russell said he had no knowledge of Ms. Stulsky’s personal financial difficulties.

Senior Town Justice William Price, who said he was speaking on behalf of all three town justices, said Wednesday it would be “inappropriate to comment on the matter.”

Ms. Stulsky served most often in the courtroom alongside Justice Rudolph Bruer, town officials said. A registered Conservative, she doesn’t appear to have any strong political party ties and town party leaders have been largely quiet during news of the investigation.

When reached for comment this week, town Democratic Chairman Art Tillman said he didn’t want to “wallow in it for political gain.”

“At the same time, whenever you have one party rule, which we have in this town, things like this easily happen,” he said. “It is really sad.”

Town Republican chairman Peter McGreevy said it’s not about party politics.

“Attempting to attach blame in this matter before the investigation is complete, and before anyone has been charged, let alone convicted, is simply premature,” he said. “Our court is part of the New York State Unified Court System and court revenue streams of this type are governed and audited by the New York State Office of Court Administration, not Southold Town. Therefore, any assertion that ‘one party rule’ may have impacted this matter is not only completely incorrect, but specious at best.”

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