Report finds sex, booze, sleeping on the job at Cook County water parks
Sunday, March 27, 2011
by Lisa Donovan
A mini-water park run by the Cook County Forest
Preserve allegedly became a personal playground for staffers who boozed
it up, had sex or just napped for hours at a time — all on the
The lurid events, along with the theft of thousands
in cash, were captured on video surveillance cameras installed in a
pool office as part of a probe into alleged theft at the Cermak Aquatic
Center in Lyons, according to a new report issued Friday by the Cook
County inspector general.
“This included surveillance video of employees
consuming alcoholic beverages and providing the alcohol to minors,
engaging in sexual relations, improper physical contact between
supervisor and subordinate, employees lounging and/or sleeping for hours
at a time,” Patrick Blanchard wrote in a report to Cook County Board
President Toni Preckwinkle.
The problems at Cermak triggered an investigation
of all three of the forest preserve “aquatic centers” which revealed the
pools were drowning in money problems, traced to time card fraud and
unjustified overtime to the tune of $166,716.62 during the 2010 summer
season, Blanchard wrote.
By the time the 2010 summer season ended, the three aquatic centers were operating nearly $210,000 in the red.
Blanchard says 17 seasonal and full-time employees
were caught up in the probe and he’s recommending everything from firing
to suspension. Preckwinkle said in a prepared statement that
“employees directly involved in wrongdoing have been terminated.”
Preckwinkle, who was not in office at the time of
the alleged fraud, said the administration is reviewing cash handling
and supervision at the pools.
The investigation has been referred to the state’s
attorney’s office. Already, the forest preserve police ticketed six
employees for drinking on forest preserve property, and one of those
staffers was charged with a misdemeanor count of providing alcohol to
minors, Forest Preserve Police Chief Richard Waszak said.
The probe started with an allegation of petty theft
at Cermak, which lead to the installation of surveillance cameras and
expanded to an investigation of timesheets and overtime forms at all
three pools — unearthing evidence of employees leaving the job for
hours at a time and rampant overtime.
Blanchard said it’s likely this didn’t just happen
last year and that “hundreds of thousands of dollars” may have been
stolen or misspent.
“This obviously was not limited to just last summer, the same people were there the previous summer,” he said.
Cook County Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri, a
Republican whose district includes the Northwest side and suburbs, has
long believed the pools should be privatized.
“These types of abuses can’t be tolerated, and the
administration needs to make sure the people who are operating the
facility have the skills to do that,” he said.
Silvestri was scratching his head over pool staffers racking up nearly $200,000 in overtime during such a short season.
“The pools should not be used for personal profit -
you can’t generate that kind of overtime in one summer. And it
shouldn’t be used as your own private party place.”