WAPPINGERS FALLS -Bottini Fuel, the Wappingers Falls-based provider of heating oil and propane pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree falsifying business records in Wappingers Falls Village Justice Court, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Between 2004 and 2016, Bottini improperly retained over payments and duplicate payments for heating oil from over 130 individual, business and government customers and did not inform them that they overpaid.
The company took excess balances of customer accounts and used them to benefit its owners and employees, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Bottini will pay more than $3.2 million in criminal restitution and civil damages after it falsified business records to improperly divert more than $1.7 million from customer credit balances, according to the report.
“Bottini Fuel orchestrated a brazen scheme to defraud its customers for the benefit of the company and its owners,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “This conduct was long-standing and harmed individual, business and government customers.”
The company transferred $1,762,771 and used the money to pay for personal fuel expenses and to cover expenses of friends, families and other businesses close with Bottini Fuel officials, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Bottini paid $1,762,771 in criminal restitution to the Attorney General’s office. The company will also pay an additional $1.5 million in fines and penalties.
Bottini has put safeguards in place to ensure this action never happens again and apologizes to the 131 customers affected, according to a statement from Bottini.
“We regret that mistakes were made resulting in account over payments not being returned to a small number of customers,” according to a statement from Bottini. “All funds have been returned in full to the state and will be available to be reclaimed by customers.”
This all came to light by an unidentified whistleblower, who filed a lawsuit under a provisions of the state’s False Claims Act, which led to a civil investigation by the Taxpayer Protection Bureau, according to the Attorney General’s office.
The provision is called “qui tam” and allows people with evidence of fraud against a federal program or contract to sue a wrongdoer on behalf of the United States government, according to the website of the National Whistleblower Center — a nonprofit that advocates for the legal defense of whistleblowers.
The whistleblower will receive $491,358 for bringing Bottini’s actions to light.
No individuals from the company have been charged.