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County worker collected salary while he was jailed

Monday, June 15, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mark J. Konkol

If a guy's got clout in Cook County, getting tossed in the hoosegow could be like a paid vacation.

Tony Cole, the busboy- turned-patronage worker at the center of a county hiring scandal, apparently had that kind of clout in the finance department, according to payroll records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

County president Todd Stroger's cousin, former chief financial officer Donna Dunnings, gave her former secretary paid time off that he did not earn for workdays he was locked in county jail. Dunnings also signed time cards that claimed Cole worked weekends that he did not show up at the office, county records show.

Cole got his county job after a night pouring Stroger icewater at a River North steakhouse. Stroger later fired Cole for lying about his criminal past on a job application.

Dunnings -- whom Stroger fired over her dealings with Cole without giving specifics -- signed off on three "excused" absences with pay for Cole during his stint in county jail between Nov. 19 and Nov. 21 for violating orders of protection against an ex-girlfriend, according to Cole's time records.

On Nov. 21, Dunnings used her personal credit cards to bail out Cole, who said he promised to pay her back as soon as he got paid.

Dunnings also signed off on time cards that report Cole worked 14 hours the weekend of Nov. 22.

But security records kept by the sheriff's department said Cole was in the county building at 118 N. Clark for only four hours and 20 minutes that weekend.

Dunnings bailed Cole out of jail a second time Jan. 23 -- the same day Cole got comp day off "per D. Dunnings," records show.

On Jan. 25, the Sunday after Cole was released from jail, Dunnings signed a time card that reported Cole worked four hours. But Cole did not sign in at the county building that day, sheriff's department records show.

Dunnings would not comment on the excused absences, but said Cole earned the comp days off by working extra hours.

When told county time sheets did not show evidence that Cole worked enough extra hours to warrant receiving that much comp time, Dunnings said a "time keeper" kept track of comp time hours and she just signed off on the time sheets.

A county source close to the situation said Cole was the office time keeper.

Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins said he's not sure if Cole was assigned to keep his own time records, but the county does not condone giving employees excused absences with pay that are not due them.

"The county does not have a policy to pay money to employees for pay they have not earned," Mullins said.

The Sun-Times obtained Cole's time records through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Stroger administration, however, has refused to release other county records requested by the paper because an "investigating body" directed the county in writing not to release the information, Stroger's special counsel Laura Lechowicz Felicione said.

Sources have confirmed that the Cook County state's attorney's office financial crimes unit has launched a probe into the Dunnings- Cole controversy.

Cole, who remains in county jail and is due in domestic violence court today, said an assistant states attorney in the financial crimes division visited him in jail and he received a grand jury subpoena.

Cole also told the Sun-Times an FBI agent -- confirmed as an investigator from the Chicago field office -- has visited him in jail several times and as recently as last week to ask questions about Dunnings and Stroger and any information Cole might have about county corruption.



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