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Stroger: County worker stole up to $180,000

Friday, June 03, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by Steve Patterson

Thousands of dollars intended for job training programs were looted by a Cook County employee, County Board President John Stroger acknowledged Thursday.

As much as $180,000 from the President's Office of Employment Training, or POET, may have been misspent, Stroger said, as an executive for that program simply went to the bank and made cash withdrawals from the account.

The money was spent on personal items including T-shirts and amusement park tickets, he said.

Stroger made the announcement on the same day POET officials provided financial records to the Sun-Times, in response to a request first filed in early May.

The employee, a 10-year county employee who lives on the South Side, is on unpaid leave and Stroger expects her to be charged for acts he called "ungodly."

Because she has not been charged, the Sun-Times is not identifying the employee, who could not be reached Thursday.

'That's improper'

Stroger denied similar thefts could be happening with other county coffers, but conceded he wonders how an employee could make cash withdrawals from a county account without a second signature. He declined to identify the bank where withdrawals occurred, but said in reviewing POET spending, "I saw some things I knew, definitely, [POET money] shouldn't be used for." Stroger was alarmed because "there's no way in the world me or anybody else can go to a bank and draw down county money -- that's improper."

But that's exactly what the employee had been doing since 2001, Stroger said, via an account county officials thought was closed.

County investigators tracked the spending of funds intended for job programs in the south and southwest suburbs through the Workforce Investment Act, and Stroger handed the investigation to the state's attorney's office. He said the U.S. attorney -- already investigating other offices led by Stroger -- isn't involved, but is welcome to join the inquiry.

The pilfering of federal funds in an office led by Stroger caused rivals to wonder about the safety of other county coffers.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool called it "part of the scandal du jour throughout county government," while Mike Quigley said he was bothered by the "lack of internal checks and balances" that allowed it to happen, wondering if "it's going on everywhere."

Commissioner Tony Peraica said "patronage employees stealing taxpayer funds" is another example of a government "out of control and without leadership."

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