SAGAMORE HILLS — Township officials say they are trying to determine if around $200,000 can be recovered after it was stolen from a township bank account following a hack of a computer Fiscal Officer Scott Gale was using at Akron Municipal Court this past December.
"It’s a wait-and-see game," said Trustee Vice Chairman David DePasquale on Friday.
Depasquale and Trustee John Zaccardelli said that Gale was working on township business at the court, where he is deputy clerk of courts, when someone unknown hacked the computer Gale was working on and transferred approximately $1.1 million out of a township account at Huntington Bank.
The trustees say that no one working for the township, including Gale, is a suspect in the theft.
Gale is in his third, four-year term as fiscal officer, which expires next April 1. He withdrew his name from the Nov. 5 general election ballot earlier this month, leaving township receptionist Laura Steimle as the lone candidate. Gale previously said he did so because although the fiscal officer’s position is supposed to be part time, he has worked full-time hours in addition to his full-time position with the municipal court.
"Back in December, during the hack, I did work with the bank to prevent loss," said Gale in a voicemail message Friday, adding, "The trustees and the [township] attorney were made aware that day of the hack.".
Trustees were alerted to the hack Dec. 6, said Zaccardelli and DePasquale, but it was not clear that money was still missing until December bank statements were received in January.
"We weren’t made whole, basically, that’s the bottom line," said DePasquale.
Township police and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation were then contacted and an investigation began, with involvement also from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Gale said the hack is believed to have originated overseas in Turkey.
Zaccardelli and DePasquale said that on the recommendation of the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, a special forensic audit was conducted, which confirmed the amount stolen was about $208,000. Meanwhile, Huntington denied reimbursement of the money because it was not a bank computer that was hacked — the trustees say that the computer was also not a township device — and Cincinnati Insurance Co., the township’s insurer, denied a claim for reimbursement.
In August, trustees submitted public records requests to Gale for information, but the information was not quickly provided and the trustees threatened legal action against Gale. The trustees, however, say Gale subsequently complied with the request and no legal action is planned.
"We got the necessary information to appeal this through the insurance company," said Zaccardelli. "So we’re hoping in the next two or three months, we’ll have a final answer. And I really can’t disclose what that information is."
"It’s a bummer to have to wait and see if we’ll get the money back," said DePasquale.
Gale said he communicated with the trustees and worked through the usual channels to supply the information.
"One of the things that is standard when it comes to public records requests is that I work through the township attorney [Jeff Snell] as I’ve done for the last 12 years," said Gale.
Snell did not return phone calls seeking comment.
DePasquale said that under state law, Gale did not violate any rules in connection with conducting township business offsite with a non-township computer.
"Trustees cannot dictate when, how and where the fiscal officers perform their duties and on what devices," he said.
Gale said the township’s experience with the hack should be seen as a learning experience.
"While I’ve never used my cell phone to check bank accounts, unfortunately any computer can be hacked so I warn all to be cautious," he said. "Unfortunately, it happens all too often. So protect your passwords and accounts. I know that many many years ago, a former bank vice president told me, every morning check your accounts because each night, hundreds of thousands of transactions go through the bank so early detection of hacking or errors is critical and I did just that."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.