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Ex-official says agency owes him $47K

December 25, 2018

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency wants to know what happened to $768,000 that it spent on a software application that it says is incomplete and unusable.

The money went to Richard Simms, who left the agency in April after serving more than two decades as its executive director.

Simms, through an attorney, has refused to give the information. Instead, he maintains the sewage treatment agency owes him an additional $47,000 for hosting and other services related to the software.

Through an open records request, the Daily Journal obtained correspondence between KRMA’s and Simms’ attorneys in their dispute regarding the software money.

Simms, who apparently left on good terms, served as executive director through a contract with his Kankakee-based firm, Simms Engineering Ltd.

On Sept. 21, KRMA’s attorney, Neal Smith, of Bolingbrook, sent a demand letter asking Simms for an accounting on how the software money was spent, including a list of subcontractors.

He exchanged a few letters and emails with Simms’ attorney, Chris Bohlen, of Kankakee.

In Simms’ response the same day as the demand letter, he gave the code that he said would activate the software — information that KRMA blacked out for security concerns when it provided the documents to the Daily Journal.

“Although it is impossible to guarantee effective hosting services while KRMA’s Management Staff is noncommunicative, (Simms Engineering) will, in good faith, continue hosting KRMA’s application for two weeks from the final delivery date.”

Hosting services, he said, would be terminated Oct. 5. He said the software, which was designed to operate the sewage treatment plant, would be delivered as is, calling it “fully functional.”

On Sept. 25, Simms’ attorney, Bohlen, said his client had no duty to provide the requested information on how the money was spent.

“Every payment was approved by the board with no dissent and paid,” Bohlen wrote. “As far as I am able to determine, there is no basis for the KRMA board to ‘demand’ an accounting from a vendor which provided a substantial service and which presented timely invoices and which the board has approved payment on a monthly basis.”

Disagreeing in an Oct.1 letter, Smith said the agency had every right to know how public money was spent. As executive director, Smith said, Simms “held the trust and confidence” of the KRMA board.

On Oct. 12, Bohlen said he knew of no basis in the law in which a purchaser, once it has accepted and approved the bill and received the product, is entitled to go back and demand an accounting of the fees.

In that letter, Bohlen said KRMA owed $47,181 for hosting and other software-related services. If Simms does not receive that money, Bohlen said, “we will take the necessary action to obtain relief for my client.”

On Oct. 27, Smith emailed Bohlen saying Simms had a fiduciary duty to the board.

“(I)n my view, Mr. Simms abused his authority and position of trust and engaged in self-dealing to the financial detriment of KRMA,” Smith wrote.

In the letters, Smith said Bohlen had a conflict of interest in representing Simms because his firm had represented KRMA as recently as April.

In an Oct. 19 email, Bohlen said that because the conflict of interest issue had been raised, he needed a “short period” to evaluate the situation. He promised to respond as soon as possible.

On Nov. 7, Smith asked Bohlen via email whether he had a chance to examine the conflict of interest issue. He received no response.

Earlier this month, Smith told the Daily Journal that Bohlen had stepped aside because of the conflict of interest issue, which Bohlen confirmed. (Bohlen, though, remains Simms’ attorney in a similar dispute with the Kankakee city government.)

Simms’ new attorney for KRMA issues is Ken Carlson, of Joliet. According to KRMA records, the agency has received no written communications from Simms or his attorneys since Oct. 19, more than two months ago.

Carlson has not returned the Daily Journal’s messages for comment.

In a recent investigation, the Daily Journal found that Simms created another company called Plum Flower International, which is registered in Illinois, Washington state and British Columbia, Canada.

This firm apparently developed the software application Eco App Pro and started advertising it on the internet. After the dispute between Simms and KRMA began in September, Plum Flower’s online presence largely disappeared.

The Daily Journal found online evidence that Plum Flower’s subcontractors were in places such as Russia and Colorado.

KRMA said it is considering possible litigation against Simms.

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