July 10, 2015
By Neal Tepel
New York, NY – Former Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL) CEO and President Thomas Galante and other Library executives spent over three hundred thousand dollars on prohibited items such as extravagant meals for themselves and QBPL board members, alcohol, Apple TVs, airline upgrades, and tickets to concerts and Disneyland, while claiming that the Library was running a deficit, according to an audit by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.
The story of financial abuse at the Queens Borough Public Library revolves around a series of funds that were hidden from public scrutiny due to a stipulation that prevented the Comptroller’s office from looking at any QBPL financial records other than two funds the Library claimed contained City money.
In 2014, Comptroller Stringer sued in Queens Supreme Court to invalidate the stipulation, which had been put in place by a previous administration. However, the need for this legal action was eliminated in December 2014 when a newly constituted QBPL Board of Directors fired Galante, and voted to give the Comptroller’s office full access to the Library’s financial records.
With this unlimited access, the Comptroller’s office was able to conduct a full audit and investigation of the Queens Borough Public Library for the first time in nearly two decades. The results of the investigation have been referred to the IRS and law enforcement authorities.
“Once we were able to look at all of the Library’s accounts, our audit and newly-formed investigative team uncovered a sickening track record of waste, fraud and abuse,” Comptroller Stringer said. “Tom Galante used the Queens Library as his personal piggybank, charging the public for outrageous expenses including endless rounds of drinks, extravagant dinners, and concert tickets.”
The audit found that QBPL key staff played a shell game with City funds, drawing down accounts open to public scrutiny, while squirreling away money elsewhere. During Galante’s tenure, the Library charged nearly all of its operating expenses to the Library’s internal ‘City Fund’ account which was subject to oversight by the Comptroller’s office. As a result, from FY 2008 to FY 2013 the Library appeared to run deficits that ranged from $5.7 million to $6.9 million, enabling Galante to go before the City Council and plead for more funds. In reality, the Library had anywhere from $17 to $27 million in unrestricted funds.
QBPL executives could draw upon ‘hidden funds’, some of which had previously not been subject to the Comptroller’s oversight. They used the funds to pay for a wide range of inappropriate expenses. At the same time the execs were improperly spending public funds, from FY 2008-2013, the Library was eliminating services to the reading public, cutting operating hours of Queens branches by an average of 4 hours per week. During that same time period, QBPL executives made sure that their own incomes increased, with executive compensation growing by 6.9 percent even as they cut QBPL services staff and their salaries by 2.8 percent.
The audit and investigation found that the Library board allowed its two most senior executives to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in prohibited credit card expenses, permitted the CEO to work dozens of hours per week at a second job, and failed to disclose income on the CEO’s and current interim-CEO’s tax forms. From July 2007 to December 2013, CEO Thomas Galante made $670,000 in credit card charges that were never approved by the Library’s board or Chief Financial Officer. From FY 2012-2014 CEO Galante and then-Chief Operating Officer Bridget Quinn-Carey incurred more than $310,000 in expenses that violated the Library’s Credit Card, Travel, and/or Purchasing Policy (roughly $260,000 of which were incurred by Galante).
“The conduct of Tom Galante was absolutely appalling,” Stringer said. “The Queens Library, once held up as a paragon for what an urban library system can be, was used for personal profit and pleasure. There’s no excuse for what went on here and Tom Galante should be held accountable for every cent he improperly spent. As for the former COO, and current interim CEO and President, Bridget Quinn-Carey, her financial conduct raises serious questions as to whether she should remain in a leadership position with the library. I urge the current board to review the matter immediately.”