NEWPORT — The embattled former town clerk at the center of an alleged embezzlement scandal said in court Tuesday that she destroyed a key record.
Former Coventry Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz told a judge she destroyed a thumb drive after she was ousted from her jobs with the town in June for lack of insurance.
The town sued Diaz in December, mentioning the thumb drive in its initial court filing.
The town sought the thumb drive, which Diaz reportedly carried to and from work regularly, as well as other municipal records she allegedly did not turn over.
Coventry town officials are trying to track down how more than $1 million went missing over the course of almost a decade and a half. The FBI is also investigating.
At a hearing at the civil court in Orleans County, Diaz told the judge she destroyed the thumb drive when she was no longer employed by the town.
“Generally in litigation people don’t destroy documents,” Judge Robert Bent told Diaz.
According to Diaz, who discussed the thumb drive while under oath, the drive contained an Excel spreadsheet documenting town finances from December through her ouster. She said she used the spreadsheet because a Selectboard member had cut off her access to the town’s accounting software.
A hard copy of the spreadsheet still exists, she said.
Upon questioning by the judge, she said the drive also contained a backup of the accounting software.
Diaz, who had also served as delinquent tax collector until March, is representing herself in the case. Through the 1½-hour hearing, she sat by herself at a table facing the judge, occasionally jiggling her feet.
Several town officials, including members of the Selectboard, were also in the courthouse.
Diaz did not turn over the thumb drive after a judge ordered her to give documents to the town in February.
Paul Gillies, the town’s attorney, told the judge that although Diaz is no longer working as Coventry clerk and treasurer, the town is not ready to shut down the case.
“There’s still a lot of cleanup to be done from the time she held those offices,” Gillies said.
After the order earlier this year in the case, Diaz handed over a stack of documents several inches high, according to Gillies, but he contended the materials were “woefully inadequate.”
Gillies said there are questions related to the town’s cemetery association, the town foundation and more to which only Diaz knows the answers. The town says the information she turned over was incomplete.
Several auditors over the years have said Diaz wouldn’t produce records necessary for them to complete their work. A forensic audit finally determined the Northeast Kingdom town is missing an estimated $1.4 million or more.
The town is due to begin another audit this month. There is concern that the documentation for the most recent fiscal year is incomplete.
Other issues include a missing remote used to control the town office security system, which Diaz said had been lost.
Through the hearing, Diaz raised issues over documentation — at times saying she didn’t have documents related to certain areas of interest, or saying most documents were at the clerk’s office when she left.
The judge is expected to issue an order soon, but it is not clear what will come out of it. Several times during the hearing he referenced difficulties with enforcing an order.
After the hearing, Gillies said the town wanted to ensure the civil case was not dropped because Diaz is no longer working for the town.
“We didn’t want this to be prematurely dismissed because the offices were vacated,” Gillies said. “There is a continuing interest in what she was doing when she was in those offices.”
Gillies said he hopes to depose Diaz soon.
Aside from the thumb drive, Gillies said the biggest revelation from the hearing was that Diaz seemed to allude to having more documents.
After the hearing ended, Diaz had a brief exchange with Gillies, then swiftly left the courtroom and refused to speak with reporters.
“I have no comment, thank you,” she said.