No criminal charges in per diem probe : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|No criminal charges in per diem probe|
|by Matt Schury|
No criminal charges will be filed in a year-long investigation into how Kendall County Board members claimed per diem payments for attending meetings, County State's Attorney Eric Weis said Friday.
Weis said his office would not be filing criminal charges against any of the 11
County Board members following the conclusion of a criminal investigation by the Kendall County Sheriff's office last week that began in June 2013.
This is the first time Weis confirmed County Sheriff's detectives had conducted a criminal investigation.
Weis said he didn't see enough evidence of criminal intent to press charges against the 11 board members.
Those involved include current board members John Purcell, Jeff Wehrli, Dan Koukol Elizabeth Flowers and County Board Chairman John Shaw. Former board members involved in the investigation included Bob Davidson, Nancy Martin, Pam Parr, Jessie Hafenrichter, Suzanne Petrella and Anne Vickery.
"We are not charging anyone with criminal activities," Weis said.
Weis explained that it came down to whether they had enough evidence of "criminal intent to commit a theft."
"It's not whether the money is owed ... was there an intent to steal the money or to take the money inappropriately from the county at the time the (per diem) vouchers were submitted?" Weis said. "It was a very thorough investigation by the sheriff's office, multiple interviews, multiple records, pages and pages of documents-I can't conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that there is an intent to commit a criminal activity."
Weis added that whether the County Board members owe the county money from per diem payments they received is another issue.
The County Board's per diem ad hoc committee sent request letters to the 11 members asking them to repay money that the group said the took incorrectly in mileage and per diem payments.
"From the criminal side, there is nothing that would indicate beyond a reasonable doubt that we would be able to prove, against each individual board member, former or current, that they committed a criminal activity," Weis stated.
Weis mentioned he also had the state appellate prosecutor's office assign a special assistant to review the case, independent of the State's Attorney's office.
"Given the sensitivity of this case, we thought it would be best just to make sure...that all avenues have been explored and two independent bodies in essence reviewed it, so no one could say that there was a bias," he said.
Charles Colburn, the special assistant, also concluded in a letter to Weis that there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.
In his letter to Weis dated July 16 Colburn writes, "The investigation was concerned with board members allegedly claiming per diem payments for meetings not attended and with members 'double billing' for meetings... in this matter we have determined no prosecutable criminal activity has been discovered."
Colburn continues, "To the extent that mistakes and omissions may have led to 'double billing,' those funds may be subject to civil collections."
The police report of the investigation by County Sheriff's Detective Sergeant Jim Jasnosz dated July 18 states that the investigation is to be closed by Weis' office and no charges would be filed. Jasnosz also states in his narrative that, "I am updating the status of this investigation to exceptional clearance, prosecution declined."
The sheriff's office spent a year investigating the matter after a criminal theft case was filed by Weis, according to information in the police report obtained in a recent Freedom of Information Act request.
Detectives spent months poring over documents and interviewing each of the board members as well as their attorneys, other officials involved in the case, and the forensic auditor the county hired to review the per diem payments, the case shows. Board members were read their Miranda rights and asked questions by sheriff's detectives about the way they claimed per diems.
Weis added that he contacted the sheriff's office to perform an investigation shortly after Vickery filed a criminal complaint with his office suggesting that Koukol and other board members were taking per diems incorrectly.
Weis said he felt there was enough to take the complaint to the sheriff for a formal investigation. He added that a citizen filed a similar complaint at the same time as Vickery but he decided to follow up on Vickery's complaint since she was chairman of the county's finance committee at the time.
Chief Deputy Scott Koster said that in the investigation the sheriff's office looked at instances that could have been construed as "criminal acts."
Koster pointed out that in the sheriff's investigation the dollar amount they believe the board members owe was different than what the State's Attorney was considering.
"The States' Attorney looked at all the potential civil violations and reimbursement that might be sought. We took out anything that we felt was a misinterpretation of a rule or a misunderstanding of a procedure and we focused directly on the limited number of incidents that we felt that there may be knowledge and intent."
Koster explained that the sheriff's office is responsible for gathering the evidence and interviewing suspects for the state's attorney the case.
"This was obviously a huge amount of information over a long period of time," Koster said. "They ultimately make the determination whether or not there is sufficient evidence or cause to go forward with a criminal persecution, which is obviously a high standard because it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
The complete forensic audit by Dennis E. Czurylo and Associates LLC of 11 Kendall County Board members' per diems and mileage reimbursements over a four-year period was released by Weis' office last month.
The roughly 5,100 page document used in the criminal investigation shows everything the auditors reviewed including each of the county board members' submitted meeting vouchers; minutes from meetings; correspondence between the board members and county treasurer and clerk's offices.
In May the per diem ad hoc committee sent 11 payment request letters to board members asking they pay back a total of $45,997 in improperly collected per diem and mileage payments.