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Report finds sex, booze, sleeping on the job at Cook County water parks

Sunday, March 27, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
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 taxpayers’ dime,

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.”



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