Joy Karam was one of the public faces of the city Department of Public Works, often answering the office’s phone and helping people who came in the door.
But police allege that the senior clerk was stealing from the public and took at least $20,000 from city coffers over the last year and a half.
Karam, 43, of 1 Sandspring Dr., Saratoga Springs, was charged Thursday morning with third-degree grand larceny and first-degree falsifying business records, both felonies. She was released on $20,000 bond.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said Karam kept money that she was supposed to deposit into city accounts after people bought their trash bags for the city transfer station on Weibel Avenue.
Residents pay $3 per plastic bag, which they can fill with trash and drop off at the transfer station.
Murphy said the money that people paid for bags at the transfer station was brought to Karam in City Hall, who was then supposed to deposit it with the city’s Finance Department.
Authorities wouldn’t disclose whether Karam took cash or checks or how she allegedly tried to cover her tracks.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said he notified police after discovering a discrepancy in the accounting books. Led by Sgt. John Catone, officers kept a close watch on Karam’s activity from May until August, and also investigated records going back to January 2007.
Court records stated that Karam falsified a record on July 29, although authorities said in a news conference Thursday there were multiple falsifications during those months.
Murphy said he expects the case to go before a Saratoga County grand jury, which could potentially return more charges than the two felonies against Karam.
The current charges carry a maximum sentence of up to seven years in state prison, he said. Murphy said his office likely would seek restitution in the case.
Also, police are still investigating other accounts that Karam was charged with overseeing, including the accounts for compost and the carousel in Congress Park.
“To this point, there’s no indication there was anyone else involved in this crime,” said police spokesman Lt. Greg Veitch.
Murphy said authorities will subpoena bank records as part of the investigation.
“At this point, I don’t want to comment specifically on where the money went,” he said.
A call to Karam’s home on Thursday was not returned. Her attorney, Richard Mullaney, declined comment.
She has been suspended from her job. Scirocco said Karam will be fired if the allegations prove true.
Her salary this year was $36,811.
“I think I was surprised, like most of the employees in DPW were surprised,” Scirocco said Thursday of Karam’s arrest. He emphasized that her alleged behavior should not reflect on the rest of the department.
Karam started working for DPW in 1998 as a part-time clerk and was offered a full-time job in 1999, when former commissioner of public works Thomas McTygue was in office.
Her husband, George Karam, was acquainted with McTygue because George Karam trained horses for John Stark Jr., who co-owns a farm in the town of Saratoga with McTygue.
George Karam also is president of the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association. He has not been charged.
The Karams contributed to McTygue’s failed re-election campaign last year.
Karam also is the treasurer for the local City Hall chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association.
A CSEA spokeswoman said Thursday that the union was shocked by the news of Karam’s arrest and hasn’t decided whether to audit its own books.
Therese Assalian, spokeswoman for CSEA’s Capital Region, said the local union keeps only a portion of the dues collected from employees. Two officers have to sign every check written against the account, Assalian said.