An investigation into the City of Williamsport by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office alleges years of misappropriation of funds within the city and could hold dire consequences for some current and former employees of the city, according to individuals familiar with the investigation.
A clear picture of the City of Williamsport’s financial standing is impossible to determine, according to Mayor Derek Slaughter, who is facing mounting pressure from City Council to allocate funds to various projects and employee positions.
“Since I took over in January of 2020, there have been issues with the finances… The finances are not what they should be,” Slaughter said during Williamsport’s Thursday evening City Council meeting. “While we’re trying to go through the budget, it’s difficult when we don’t even know what money we are working with.”
Just days after taking office, Slaughter terminated long-time Director of Finance William E. Nichols Jr., who had worked for the city for over 40 years and who also managed River Valley Transit.
Slaughter said he became aware of discrepancies in the city’s finances while serving on City Council and, shortly after becoming mayor, he sent a report to Lycoming County District Attorney Ryan Gardner. Gardner subsequently sent the report to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.
Nichols was called for comment for this article but did not respond.
Checks and balances
The outcome of the Attorney General’s investigation has not been made public; however, this has not stopped allegations from surfacing about Nichols’ handling of state and federal grant funds during his time with the city.
“There was clearly a pattern of unethical behavior,” said Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies, which consulted with the city for over eight years until Fitzgerald chose not to renew his company’s contract with the city in 2020.
River Valley Transit receives grant funds from the state Department of Transportation each year to offset a large portion of its budget. It’s alleged that portions of those funds were used for city projects instead.
According to Fitzgerald, it would have been simple for Nichols to move funds between the two agencies because he oversaw and managed finances for both.
“One man controlled everyone,” he said.
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