Internal emails detail scope of York Ice Arena investigation
York Dispatch investigative reporter David Weissman has been taking a close look at the York City Ice Arena, which one former city official said has had "problems from day one" and is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
Internal emails among York City Ice Arena employees and customers show concerns about theft from the city-owned facility, though an ongoing police investigation has not led to any charges.
The emails, provided to The York Dispatch by former assistant general manager John Feuerstein, also show how the timeline of the investigation coincided with the termination of longtime general manager Mike Cleveland.
The York Dispatch had filed Right-to-Know requests seeking those emails, but the city denied the request for failing to provide "sufficient specificity."
The city-owned facility is managed by the York Revolution, which took over management operations in late 2014 from Rink Management Services.
Officials acknowledged in November that police were investigating possible employee misconduct at the facility but have been silent regarding the subject of the investigation.
Acting York City Police Capt. Matt Leitzel told The York Dispatch on Wednesday, Jan. 24, that the York County District Attorney's Office has approved having an audit of the arena conducted, and police are waiting for the results of that audit before determining their next steps.
Eric Menzer, president of the Revs, has said his organization initiated the investigation after reporting a concern to the city.
Multiple Right-to-Know requests filed by The York Dispatch showed bookkeeping anomalies that Menzer declined to explain, citing the ongoing investigation.
An independent audit of York City's finances also found a lack of "appropriate controls and oversight" at the arena.
Alleged theft: Feuerstein said he and another now-former employee were the ones who prompted the investigation when they brought documents to Menzer that they felt served as proof of employee misconduct.
The internal emails suggest RKL was brought in to investigate the allegations, and consultants at the York-based accounting firm were asking arena employees questions via email as early as Aug. 9.
On Aug. 25, RKL sent an email to Feuerstein and another employee asking questions about Cleveland, including whether they remember an incident in 2015 when Cleveland reportedly got mad at an employee for recording money collected from a group into the arena's accounting system.
That same day, Cleveland was fired as general manager, according to his termination letter. He had been GM since at least 2003, according to Dispatch archives.
Feuerstein and Brandon Hyder, another now-former arena employee, said protocol under Cleveland was to collect cash from certain groups, put it in an envelope that would be dropped into Cleveland's office and not record that money in the accounting system.
New general manager Mark Skehan, reviewing the accounting system with The York Dispatch as part of a Right-to-Know request, wasn't able to show where cash collected by these groups was being recorded, though he admitted his knowledge of the system was still limited.
"I can't find (the money in the system) where I'd expect to find it," Skehan said.
Asked about this issue, Menzer said that there are situations he's aware of that are wrapped up in the investigation that he can't discuss but that it doesn't necessarily suggest wrongdoing.
"I probably have some of the same questions (The York Dispatch) has," he said.
Skehan said his focus was less on allegations of past misconduct and more on eliminating mistakes moving forward. Shipley Energy, owner of the Revs, brought in an independent accounting consultant to help Skehan and other arena employees navigate the ice arena-specific software, called Frontline Solutions.
Menzer said they also were looking into using a different accounting system.
Less than two weeks after Cleveland was fired, Menzer emailed arena employees to let them know that "the city has decided to expand into at least a preliminary investigation by city police to determine if sufficient evidence exists for criminal prosecution of the alleged theft."
That same day, Sept. 5, York City's public police log shows that a detective met with city solicitors Jason Sabol and Donald Hoyt at City Hall "in regards to a theft that occurred at the York City Ice Rink."
Menzer added that his organization has been in contact with the city from the very moment it had a concern.
Arena access: While serving as general manager, Cleveland also was a coach for York Ice Hockey Club, one of the arena's primary customers.
On Aug. 7, the club's president, Rick Lefever, sent an email to players' parents that "due to an unforeseen personal circumstance, Coach Cleveland will be unavailable for a short period of time," noting that the leave wasn't a health-related or hockey club issue.
On Aug. 10, Lefever forwarded an email to Menzer that showed a competing local hockey organization was trying to take advantage of the coaching uncertainty to recruit players away from York's club.
"While I believe this is so un-ethical we stand to lose major players in turn the Rink will Lose revenue," Lefever wrote, noting that if Cleveland's team folded, the rink would lose about $50,000 in ice purchases.
The next day, Menzer emailed Lefever to let him know that Cleveland would be allowed into the arena for coaching purposes "out of respect for our relationship with the club and the fact that as our customer, you have broad authority to make decisions regarding club employees, consultants, volunteers and coaches."
The email also laid out restrictions for Cleveland's presence, including no access to any area not accessible to the general public and that he could only be in the building during scheduled practice times for his team.
Menzer told The York Dispatch it was an unusual situation and emphasized that business decisions are complex.
In trying to make the arena as financially successful as possible, Menzer said, collaboration with their top customers is needed, and he doesn't believe it was inappropriate for Lefever to let Menzer know the situation or for Menzer to take that information into consideration.
Cleveland remains a coach and continues to have access to the arena. Lefever, in an email response to The York Dispatch, stated that the club was not given any details regarding his termination.
Cleveland, reached by phone Tuesday, Jan. 23, said he was busy working and did not call back prior to publication.
Resignations: Feuerstein, who had worked at the arena since 2007, said he finally quit on Jan. 15 because he believed the Revs were mismanaging the facility, particularly with the decision to appoint Skehan, the former owner of Dressel Welding Supply, as general manager.
Feuerstein was acting manager in between Cleveland's firing and Skehan's hiring and had interviewed for the position full time.
He accused Menzer of cronyism for hiring Skehan, who is Menzer's longtime friend and neighbor and has no previous experience managing an ice arena.
Menzer has said Skehan's combination of knowledge in business, leadership and longtime involvement with York Ice Hockey Club made him the perfect candidate.
The internal emails show that several employees resigned as rumors swirled about Skehan's hiring, which became official Nov. 6.
Skehan said he's currently the only full-time employee at the arena, along with about 30 part-time employees.
Feuerstein said his top goal for the future is to make sure the Revs lose their city management contract, which expires in September with an optional four-year renewal.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.