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Regional Supt. Flowers' home, office searched

Wednesday, July 01, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Duaa Eldeib

Investigators from the Cook County state's attorney's office wrapped up a raid  early this afternoon at the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education in Westchester .  They arrived with a search warrant early this morning in connection  with an ongoing investigation into Supt. Charles Flowers.

Investigators seized about half a dozen boxes of papers and a computer from the office. Neighbors report officers also were at Flowers' home in nearby Maywood early this morning and left with boxes.

There is no sign of Flowers at his home or office. Also, his two sisters and nephews, whom he added to the regional office payroll when he took office in 2007, didn't show up for work either.

Other employees were allowed to go inside the office and are now being questioned by investigators. 

The SouthtownStar in May was the first to report about Flowers' alleged misuse of public money. A state audit released in June confirmed the SouthtownStar findings.

There are unconfirmed reports that two of Flowers' second-in-commands left the office just one day before the raid. Deputy Supt. Harry Reynolds and Assistant Supt. Cynthia Broughton are said to have retired Tuesday, in a move that puts distance between them and Flowers.

Flowers has not returned multiple calls for comment.

Numerous purchases made on Flowers' regional office credit card were of a personal nature, the audit shows. Credit card statements obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests detail thousands of dollars spent on food and restaurants, a trip to a hair salon and limousine charges. Documents also reveal that Flowers began his tenure with a credit card limit of $5,000, and it is now at $20,000.

Flowers also used his district credit card to pay for airline tickets for family members to Mississippi and rental cars, as well as taking out almost $7,000 in cash advances both in Illinois and Mississippi, the audit shows. Although he claimed that the money was used to buy a car and furniture for the office, auditors could not find either.

This is all coming from an office where Flowers hired family and friends, including a nephew whom the audit shows was paid to eat lunch. Flowers approved $15,000 in cash advances for his executive assistant - who is also his sister - and another employee. In addition, two assistant superintendents each collected their $80,000-plus paychecks along with $12,000 and $9,400 in grant money for "consulting services" they did during normal working hours, according to the audit.

He also failed to make the June 30 deadline this week to repay a $190,000 loan for operations from the Cook County board of commissioners. He cited at the time he needed the loan because the office was facing a $413,000 deficit and was underfunded.

Flowers, the former special education teacher and administrator, was elected in 2006 to the office that is now nearly $1 million in debt. For the past few months, Flower's office was late on payroll and earlier this year the department didn't pay its group health insurance premiums on time, leading the company to temporarily cancel workers' health benefits. The majority of the two dozen or so workers have either been laid off or had their hours cut.

The office also owes nearly $20,000 in back rent to Westchester Public School District 92 1 / 2 for the regional office's space, documents show.

Flowers said he repaid the office for personal expenses, but the auditors could not verify that.

Duaa Eldeib can be reached at deldeib@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5960.



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