If you listen to the state comptroller and attorney general, a local fuel company was engaged in a “brazen” scheme to take money from its customers.

The company now has to pay back more than a million dollars it took from private customers and more than half a million from public ones as well as $1.5 million in penalties and fines, not that difficult for a firm that has over $100 million in annual revenue according to the court documents.

But if you listen to the company, Morgan Fuel & Heating Company Inc., which does business as Bottini Fuel, there’s another way to look at it:

“We regret that mistakes were made resulting in account overpayments not being returned to a small number of customers. All funds have been returned in full to the state and will be available to be reclaimed by customers. We have put safeguards in place to ensure this never happens again and apologize to all customers who were impacted.”

So which was it? Brazen or mistaken?

The explanation by the comptroller and attorney general comes down pretty clearly on the side of brazen since the money from overpayments and rebates that should have gone to customers ended up instead going to the company’s owners, relatives, friends, certain employees or businesses in which Bottini’s owners held an interest.

And this took place not once or twice but regularly over a period of 12 years.

The only reason we know about this massive fraud was the decision by a whistleblower to reveal what was going on. Details from one customer are typical. Instead of refunding $83,000 in an account, the senior management directed the staff to put the money in a dummy account and eventually pay it to “various Bottini-related individuals and entities.”

Now, the attorney general will contact customers and money from those who cannot be found will be held in the state Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds.

So what are those safeguards that the company has put in place? Will the senior management responsible in the first place be in charge of them? And when the news came to light, when the whistle was blown three years ago, why did the company which is now apologizing and asking for forgiveness not admit to its actions and immediately track down the customers who were owed money and make restitution?

As part of any such fraud settlement, the comptroller and attorney general need to monitor companies to assure that this cannot happen again. When an individual pleads guilty and receives punishment, we expect some sort of probationary period just to make sure that the lessons have been learned. We should expect the same when a company is involved.

Although this appears to be the end of the case, Dutchess County says it needs to go over its accounts to make sure it was not cheated when it was a customer. If it’s not too late, the state needs to have the company let all customers know, perhaps with a repeated warning on the next few bills, about what happened to make sure that everybody has been paid back and is on guard.