Millions of Dollars in Uncashed Checks Found Just Sitting in Erie County Hall

7:26 PM, Feb 29, 2012   |    comments
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BUFFALO, NY - There are bins filled with unopened envelopes containing checks for millions of dollars inside the Erie County Clerk's office.

In another room inside Erie County Hall, there are more mail bins filled with important real estate documents that should have been returned to lawyers months ago.

Many of the documents are original deeds for homes.

The documents must be verified before they can be returned, however in order for that to happen, the envelopes must be opened.

Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs admits he inherited a task that he wasn't expecting when he took office this year. He has approved overtime on Saturdays just so the backlog of documents can be handled.

Jacobs says the documents date back 18 months, and the mail with the checks attached date back to September 2011. He says the problems stems from a procedural change among the cashiers, scanners, and verifiers over a year ago when Congresswoman Kathy Hochul was clerk. "There was paralysis here and no one did anything. No one listened to any of the employees who said it wasn't working," said Jacobs.

Between Hochul and Jacobs was acting clerk John Crangle. He says he knew about the backlog because "there's one every year."

"Every year in the winter months you have a backlog because you're not processing as much as in the summer," said Crangle.

Crangle says the end of 2011 though was unusually backed up because of a high number of assignment mortgages being processed.

Jacobs estimates that nearly $2 million dollars in checks that were just sitting in a room have been cashed since the first of the year. He says all of that money should've been in a bank collecting interest.

The $5000 in overtime spent so far is also costing taxpayers and the clerks office may need to ask for more. Furthermore, this whole mess could trickle down to higher closing costs.

Jacobs is now revamping the clerks office with the help of outside experts and is also bringing in an E-recording system to bring the clerks office into the 21st century. New York is the last state in the nation to have an E-recording system.

Two On Your Side repeatly asked Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, through her spokesperson, for an interview about the backlog during her time spent as Erie County Clerk. Her spokesperson sent us a statement. It reads:

"Mr. Jacobs has clearly stated that the checks in question date back to September 2011, four months after Congresswoman Hochul left her position in the Clerk's office.

As Erie County residents will attest, Congresswoman Hochul was responsible for improving customer service and doing more with fewer resources in a tight budget environment. She stands ready and willing to support Mr. Jacobs as he works to eliminate the exisiting backlog."

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