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Juvenile center troubles mount
Unsealed lawsuit claims grant misuse, kickbacks, drug use

Thursday, February 01, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A previously sealed whistleblower lawsuit against the troubled Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center received its first public court hearing Wednesday, revealing new allegations.
In addition to the widely publicized allegations of abuse of teens at the facility, the suit describes widespread misuse of state and federal grants, with at least one grant being used to fund patronage jobs outside the facility — a legal no-no.
Allegations of ghost payrollers, false overtime claims, kickbacks, blatant drug use by children and the selling by employees of CDs and videos out of their lockers while on the clock also are described in the suit, filed on behalf of a “Jane Doe” employee.
Dana Kurtz, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told Judge Ronald A. Guzman Wednesday she needed 60 days to update the complaint and distribute it to county officials. He gave her 30 days.
Under federal whistleblower statutes, lawsuits can be filed under seal to give state and federal authorities time to investigate the claims to see if there are criminal charges to be pursued. Since the lawsuit was filed in September 2005, both the Illinois attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office have served subpoenas on the center.
Chief Judge James Holderman ordered the suit unsealed Jan. 19, and the U.S. attorney’s office filed a form indicating it will not carry the civil suit forward for the plaintiff, but it will allow her to carry it forward in the U.S. government’s name. Federal officials also reserve the right to sign off on any potential settlement. The assistant U.S. attorney handling the case could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general said that office continues to investigate criminal allegations, but could not say if the office would carry the civil suit forward. No attorney for the office appeared in court Wednesday.
Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Blanchard told Guzman the county likely would hire a private firm to represent it.
According to the suit, one assistant superintendent at the center “directly engaged in the fraudulent activity by requiring staff … and outside contractors to pay him kickbacks in return for benefits such as the phantom ‘overtime’ pay and grant funds for projects.”
Other assistant superintendents “directly abused grant funding by using the funds to pay personal expenses and expenses for friends,” the suit claimed. “Because of all the improper spending … there is no money for kids’ activities and educational programs. … The occasional supplies or donations that come into the facility more often than not ‘disappear’ to the extent they are ordered at all.”
Since the suit was filed, the five assistant superintendents at the facility were removed by county administrators, but many of them were put in other county jobs, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune. The superintendent also was removed, and J.W. Fairman has been assigned to run the facility. He did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the county also has entered into an agreement with the ACLU to improve conditions at the center. An outside monitor is at the facility, but she recently told the court facility administrators were interfering with her work — a claim the county denied. The monitor, Brenda Welch, also could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Many of the employees named in the suit no longer are at the facility. At least two remain, making $44,500 salaries each.

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