State police investigate Stammel, Rensselaer ambulance company


RENSSELAER — State Police are investigating Mayor Michael Stammel’s murky dealings with the now-defunct Rensselaer Volunteer Ambulance Service.

The investigation follows a Times Union article published in mid-April detailing a lack of regulatory filings for the nonprofit, which owns a building the mayor has rented for years for parties and events. with little apparent supervision.

Common Council President John DeFrancesco said he and townsman Todd Rutecki have been trying to find out what has happened to the organization since the mayor took office. Rutecki was a campaign volunteer for Richard J. Mooney, a Democrat who lost his bid to oust the incumbent Republican mayor in the November election.

After the Times Union article was published, DeFrancesco and Rutecki said they contacted state police and asked them to investigate the matter. They met with investigators on April 21.

“State police were welcome to the idea of ​​an investigation,” DeFrancesco said. “Nobody ever dug deep enough to find out, and as chairman of the Common Council, I felt it was my job to look into (the matter).”

Several members of the community have since been contacted by state police investigators and questioned about Stammel’s involvement with the organization this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

State police also have an independent investigation that focuses, in part, on mail-in ballots collected in last year’s election by Stammel and other Republican candidates in Rensselaer County. In December, as part of that investigation, a state police investigator seized Stammel’s cellphone and questioned him at city hall about the ongoing investigation into allegations of voter fraud. in the November elections.

Beau Duffy, a state police spokesman, declined on Friday “to go into specifics about our investigation,” including whether investigators were looking into Stammel’s involvement in the old ambulance service building. deliberate. He confirmed that their investigation into “voting issues” is ongoing.

Stammel did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Darlene Peasley, former president of the volunteer ambulance organization, described Stammel’s involvement with the ambulance crew as something akin to a “hostile” takeover.

Peasley started volunteering for the ambulance service when she was 16 and became president in 2014. That same year, she said the group lost certification and things started to “go right”. much worse.”

Peasley said Stammel misled the board at the time about how much the organization received from an insurance policy – and how much was spent – following a fire in 2013 which had caused serious structural damage to the building.

“That’s not what was reported in this story because we know the company that did the cleaning of the building and the repair work, and it wasn’t $60,000 that was given to that company. “, she said.

Peasley also took issue with Stammel’s assertion to the Times Union several weeks ago that an active board was in place. He declined to identify the board members.

Much of the organization’s downfall occurred over two years following the fire that severely damaged the ambulance crew building at 901 Third St.

The unrest within the organization ended with Stammel, then the nonprofit’s vice president, locking Peasley and all the other members out of the building, she said.

One evening, Peasley – who had the keys to the building – noticed that a light had been left on after a party. When she went to turn it off, her keys weren’t working. She realized that the locks had been changed.

She said when she approached Stammel about it, he admitted to changing the locks because he told her “someone was stealing toilet paper” in the building. Peasley asked when she would get a new key to the building, to which she said he replied, “I’ll contact you later about that.”

She said Stammel never contacted her about the key. She made numerous attempts, along with other members, to enter the building, but said Stammel ignored them for about a year until they gave up.

Pre-lockdown red flags

Peasley said there were signs of trouble in the organization before the lockdown, including the relationship between Stammel and treasurer Bonnie Lee Hahn.

Peasley said personnel files began to disappear, including Stammel and Hahn files that had been kept by the organization.

When questions about the insurance policy were raised, Peasley said payment for fire damage fell into Hahn’s hands due to her position as treasurer.

Peasley and Nathan Carlson, a former first mate, said members repeatedly asked Stammel and Hahn for an audit to detail what happened to that money as well as define the organization’s financial situation. .

“Whenever we asked for audits or anything like that, we didn’t get actual paper statements from the bank. They would all be like homemade Excel spreadsheets,” Peasley said.

Members also called for a legal review to be carried out as the organization’s bylaws advise against internal staff performing the audits.

“They would refuse to give us legal audits,” Peasley said, noting that they said it was fine for Hahn to do this job because she works as an auditor for the Office of Children and Youth Services. New York family.

Still, former members maintain that they did not believe what was happening was appropriate and decided to vote to have Hahn and Stammel removed from the organization. They reunited with the appropriate number of members as needed and rejected the pair multiple times.

“They got hostile and told the members that because they weren’t there, their meetings didn’t count,” Peasley said.

Carlson said they even tried to demand an independent audit by sending a letter to Hahn by certified mail, but she refused to accept it. Years after the lockdown, Carlson was in the building for a private party and he checked a storage room and noticed that all the documents that had been stored there were gone.

The members were barred from returning to the building and could not afford to hire a lawyer to seek legal intervention to try to get Stammel and Hahn out; ultimately their efforts failed.

Former members said they remained suspicious of the mayor’s handling of the former ambulance crew building, which he rents out for private events while handling contracts and payments. Stammel had said he used the money to run utilities for the building and to pay taxes on it.

“It’s dirty politics,” Carlson said. “I would hate to let him get away with it.”


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