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IG: Theft, sex on the job and improper OT at Cook County Forest Preserve pools

Friday, March 25, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Employees at a Cook County Forest Preserve District aquatic center in Lyons were caught on tape stealing thousands of dollars, providing alcohol to minors and having sex at work, according to a report issued this afternoon by the county inspector general.

Some employees under-reported transactions at the Cermak Aquatic Center and pocketed the cash they did not report taking in, Inspector General Patrick Blanchard wrote.

After receiving tips about the skimming, Blanchard secretly recorded about 120 hours of video in late August and early September. That video, along with an accounting review, confirmed the thefts, he said.

The video also captured employees drinking alcohol, providing it to minors and “engaging in sexual relations,” the letter states. In addition, there was “improper physical contact between (a) supervisor and (a) subordinate” and employees lounging around and sleeping on the job, it states.

During the investigation, the inspector general also determined that $166,717 in overtime was paid out at all three district aquatic centers “without justification,” the letter states.

More than 20 workers were being paid during their lunch hours even though they were not supposed to be earning wages during those half-hour breaks, it states. As a result, more than $21,000 was paid out between 2008 and 2010 that should not have been.

Last summer, the three aquatic centers operated at a loss of about $210,000, the letter states. “If you were to tighten your belt, all of the sudden the operations would probably be a money maker,” Blanchard said.

As a result of the probe, a 30-page report recommending discipline for 17 employees, from season employees to managers, was sent this week to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who also heads up the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners. All of the alleged misconduct occurred under the previous administration of former Board President Todd Stroger.

Potential felony criminal violations were referred to prosecutors for evaluation. Some misdemeanor arrests related to underage drinking occurred last year, Blanchard said.

But the season employees involved in misconduct were immediately discharged after evidence against them was obtained through the video, Blanchard said.

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