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Cook County Juvenile Center plagued by kickbacks, patronage, suit alleges

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Special to suffredin.org
by Associated Press

A whistleblower lawsuit unsealed in federal court claims workers at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center defrauded the state out of more than $1 million and at least one supervisor approved unearned overtime payments in exchange for kickbacks.
Meanwhile, some employees used money from the center to pay for personal expenses while others sold CDs and videos from their staff lockers, the lawsuit alleged.
''Because of all the improper spending … there is no money for kids' activities and educational programs,'' the complaint read. ''The occasional supplies or donations that come into the facility more often than not 'disappear' to the extent they are ordered at all.''
The center on Chicago's West Side is one of the largest juvenile detention centers in the country. About 450 to 500 children accused of crimes ranging from theft to murder are housed at the there on any given day.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the center in federal court in 1999, alleging poor treatment of residents. That suit was settled in 2002 when the county agreed to implement improvements, but last year a federal judge appointed an independent manager to oversee reforms.
The previously sealed lawsuit was filed in September 2005 by an employee — referred to as Jane Doe — when the center again came under fire for allegations of corruption and patronage. It was unsealed Jan. 19.
One supervisor, a friend of former County Board President John Stroger, received kickbacks from staffers in exchange for unearned overtime, according to the lawsuit.
The staffers ''are patronage hires, political backers, relatives and constituents of Stroger and remain employed at the [center] for that reason and despite lacking the qualifications for their jobs,'' the lawsuit stated. ''Incompetence or a criminal background is no obstacle to a job at the [center].''
Most of the employees named in the suit no longer work at the center.



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