Nine NIU employees arrested on a variety of charges. Eight of the individuals were charged with felony theft. Among those charged was former senior administrator, Robert Albanese, who served as the associate vice president for finance and facilities before resigning in July under investigation for misconduct.
Employees allegedly had sold university scrap materials, including those from campus capital improvement projects, and used the money as a slush fund for holiday parties, retirement celebrations and such.
A chronology of sorts:
- This was not a sting operation. The official account is a Daily Chronicle reporter’s phone inquiry first alerted NIU to the fact that employees were selling NIU-owned scrap material at local recyclers and depositing the proceeds into an unauthorized account identified as The Coffee Fund. An employee from one of the recyclers told the Chronicle about it.
- NIU alerted its police department and an investigation was started. The DeKalb County State’s Attorney joined in the investigation. The Illinois State Police were/are/might be involved in the case.
- Due to the media’s probing and filing FOIA requests the public learned the circumstances of two top administrators complete with separation agreements that alleged official misconduct, provided substantial severance pay and called for silence from both parties. NIU made it clear that the two administrators who resigned were not involved in The Coffee Fund.
- NIU police Sgt. Alan Smith said his department turned its findings over to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office Sept. 4.
- Dr. Peters surprised the audience at his State of NIU address with the news of his retirement as NIU President effective in June 2013. He made no direct reference to The Coffee Fund. He later said his decision was unrelated to the ongoing investigation. Among reasons given was a statement that the President of a University was not meant to be a lifetime appointment.
- October 16 the State’s Attorney’s office announces that nine NIU employees had arrest warrants issued for them.
From Northern Today:
As a result of information obtained through the criminal investigation of the ‘coffee fund’ initiated by Northern Illinois University, the DeKalb County State’s Attorney announced charges against nine current and former NIU employees late afternoon Tuesday, Oct. 16. The University respects the authority of the State’s Attorney to file these charges and acknowledges that employees have a right to be presumed innocent until the adjudicatory process concludes.
The university considers the charges against these individuals a very serious matter, and this afternoon announced that it is taking the following actions:
- J. William Roberts, managing partner of Hinshaw and Culbertson, LLC, a former U.S. attorney and former state’s attorney in Sangamon County, has been retained to provide additional expertise to the president and the Board of Trustees.
- The university has taken the necessary steps with its employees and, in accordance with existing personnel policies to ensure day-to-day operations of these departments continue with minimal disruption for students, faculty and staff.
- The duties of the university controller were transferred to an interim controller, Barbara Seldal, Tuesday night following the announcement of charges related to the coffee fund investigation.
- Seldal will also handle the role of NIU’s controller on the university’s policy review committee empaneled to review and update all procedures related to property control, cash receipts, recycling and the disposition of surplus materials.
- The employment status of the eight current employees is under review. A determination will be made later this week.
The university will provide further updates as more information becomes available.
The University respects the authority of the State’s Attorney to file these charges and acknowledges that employees have a right to be presumed innocent until the adjudicatory process concludes.
Is it just me or does that statement have an air of arrogance with a mix of indignation to it?
DeKalb County State’s Attorney, Clay Campbell told the Chicago Tribune:
“Anytime you have a situation that results in nine people being charged with felonies, it may raise some questions about the integrity of the institution. I am aware of the public’s concerns about the integrity of governance across the state. We are mindful of that lack of faith in our public institutions.”
There are some who think Campbell is playing politics with his “interference” into what “should have been an internal investigation into the matter.” Among those is Richard Schmack, Campbell’s opponent on Nov. 6. The arrests announcement hit the papers the same day the public was told that Schmack had blown the whistle on John Farrell, an assistant state’s attorney, for lying about a zoning issue and Farrell had resigned from office.
Anyone in the position to enforce the law to address the lack of faith in our public institutions might be considered playing good politics. Campbell put his peer popularity on the line when he sided with those opposed to the landfill expansion before getting elected. Apparently voters like that sort of politics.
Then there are those who think Campbell’s “politics” are overboard. It was a coffee fund and it was scrap material for crying out loud. Most building and finance retirees of the last 20 years will tell you, off the record, that they knew about The Coffee Fund. And so what if some of those charged allegedly had NIU property at their homes for personal use or borrowed a paid staff member to do personal chores — after all they gave them a tip!
And the slimiest of those posit that the government and public institutions should just budget for corruption and get on with it.
Good for Campbell for playing politics. If not for his office’s investigation (with an assist from the media) The Coffee Fund would have likely been swept under the rug. Here’s why:
Around the middle of July rumors began circulating about misconduct, slush funds and possible theft at the university. Inquiries and news tips began to grow and on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 I sent Paul Palian, spokesman for NIU the following email:
As editor of DeKalb County Online I receive news tips from time to time. I received the following tip:
Have you heard about the shake up at NIU?
They had a bunch of people who were either fired or forced to resign for having university property inappropriately in their possession at their residences. Almost all of the people fall under Dr. Eddie Williams departments. Dr. Williams, however, is not one of them being investigated by the campus police. Could it be because the Chief of Police reports to him and he hired the Chief and they are good friends. so far Bob Albanese is leaving, John Gordon from the Convo is leaving, and two Building Services janitorial heads are leaving, a [redacted] and a [redacted]. They say that more are being interviewed and that more dismissals may happen.
This is the 3rd related tip this week. I’m not looking for a scoop but I would appreciate accurate information. That’s what I try to provide our readers.
Could you point me in the right direction or provide any information in this matter?
Mac A McIntyre
It didn’t take too long for Mr. Palian to respond:
Mac–The email you sent me contains a number of inaccuracies. I can confirm that John Gordon resigned. Bob Albanese retired. To the best of our knowledge, [redacted] and [redacted] are active status in terms of our payroll. There has not been a police investigation of any sort regarding these men. We just released the following information on NIU Today regarding a new acting director at the Convocation Center…
In the case of that email exchange the rumors proved to be more accurate than NIU’s explanation.
A few days later Palian told the Chronicle a similar story:
Two Northern Illinois University administrative positions vacated last week prompted several staff reorganizations within the Division of Finance and Facilities.
University officials this week announced that Robert Albanese, associate vice president of operations in that division, retired last week. John Gordon, director of the Convocation Center, also resigned last week. The Convocation Center is overseen by the Division of Finance and Facilities.
NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the resignation and retirement of the two administrators were for personal reasons and, to his knowledge, were unrelated.
Eddie Williams, executive vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities and chief of operations, now oversees materials management, employee services and human resources development, treasury operations and bond revenue financial operations.
Steven Cunningham, associate vice president for administration and human resource services, now oversees the Office of the Controller, the accounting office and operation of the Holmes Student Center.
Norm Jenkins was director of the Holmes Student Center until Wednesday, when he assumed his new role as director of the Convocation Center after Gordon’s retirement.
Jeffrey Daurer, director of the capital budget and space planning, now is responsible for overseeing NIU’s Physical Plant, which includes the grounds department and the campus heating plant.
Bill Nicklas, associate vice president for university planning and sustainability, now is acting supervisor of Building Services, where he will help lead the Division of Finance and Facilities while continuing to oversee university planning and sustainability.
Palian said NIU is trying to “roll with the changes” by playing up on current employees’ strengths to fill those positions. According to a memo Williams sent to all Finance and Facilities staff members Thursday, the changes already are in effect and will be in place for about a year.
Palian said he believeds Albanese’s position will be filled sometime next year.
“Due to recent administrative retirements and resignations, I have had [the] opportunity to review and reorganize the administrative leadership in the operational area of our division,” Williams wrote in the memorandum. “This review has included several changes that I have deemed necessary to improve the efficiency and the effective delivery and continuation of our quality services to the NIU community.”
In another division, Kelly Wesener Michael, who served as assistant vice president for student services, has been named acting vice president of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. She took over the role July 1, replacing Brian Hemphill, who took a position as president of West Virginia State University.
Jeanne Meyer is the new director of the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct. She is replacing Larry Bolles, who retired.
NIU administrators were caught off guard by the criminal charges announced by the state’s attorney’s office. And it’s hard to ignore the possibility of a attempts to sweep it under the rug.
According to the Tribune, one of the employees charged, Controller Keith Jackson, had been given responsibility in late August for improving university procedures related to property control in the wake of the coffee fund allegations. He was assigned to a three-member “policy review” committee charged with reviewing and updating all procedures related to property control, recycling and the disposition of surplus materials, according to a university news release at the time. Jackson was charged with felony misconduct and obstruction of justice, is accused of failing to properly submit proceeds from recycled NIU property and of moving money from the coffee fund account into another account he controlled.
NIU Vice President Eddie Williams has made no public comments since the charges were announced.
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