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Official gets no-confidence vote for questionable payments, expenses

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan, Duaa Eldeib, and Dave McKinney

The heat was turned up Tuesday on a suburban education official accused of using a government credit card for personal expenses and approving questionable payments to relatives on his payroll -- as county commissioners issued a vote of no confidence and state officials revealed a criminal probe is under way.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said late Tuesday that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office is conducting an investigation into Regional Supt. Charles A. Flowers and his state-funded office, the subject of a scathing state audit last week that revealed the obscure agency had amassed a nearly $1 million deficit.

After reviewing the audit, Madigan's lawyers offered their assistance to Alvarez's office, said Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler.

"These are very serious findings in the audit," Ziegler said. "We are pleased the state's attorney will be conducting the criminal investigation."

Alvarez spokesman Andy Conklin said he cannot confirm or deny whether an investigation is under way, saying only, "We've been actively reviewing information regarding that office."

The regional education office Flowers runs issues teaching certificates, approves school calendars and reviews school districts' finances in suburban Cook County.

In his state audit last week, Auditor General William Holland questioned whether the office would be able to repay a $190,000 loan that was engineered by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

After the County Board's unanimous vote of no confidence against Flowers on Tuesday, Stroger left without talking to the media. When asked about the county loan, Stroger spokesman James Ramos said: "The Cook County board voted 16-1 to give this particular agency the loan. What he did with his money was irresponsible."

"This is an example of flagrant corruption at its most heightened," said Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman, the lone commissioner who voted against the loan and introduced Tuesday's no-confidence resolution.

Several commissioners called on Flowers to resign, and Stroger's staff sent a letter to the state's attorney's office asking prosecutors to be ready to enforce a promissory note from Flowers.

State auditors found that of 40 purchases Flowers made on a government credit card, 16 were for personal items, including airline tickets to fly Flowers' family to Mississippi. He also withdrew $6,669 in cash advances on the credit card while in Illinois and Mississippi, ostensibly to purchase a vehicle and furniture for the regional office, the audit found. But auditors found no evidence of the vehicle or furniture.

The audit also raised questions about a $6,000 cash advance Flowers authorized for his administrative assistant -- Barbara Flowers, his sister.

Flowers did not return a call Tuesday to his Westchester office.

Lisa Donovan and Dave McKinney are reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times. Duaa Eldeib works for the SouthtownStar.

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