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Auditor calls for more scrutiny

November 19, 2018

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County government maintains 14 bank accounts that circumvent the usual checks and balances of spending public money.

That’s something the county’s elected internal auditor, Jake Lee, would like to change. He says he wants more scrutiny.

A day before the election, Lee released his audit of the decentralized accounts. It revealed his office was unable to verify the existence of three of the county clerk’s accounts at the bank where the money is listed as being.

Besides the county clerk’s accounts, the other accounts in question are controlled by the circuit court clerk’s and sheriff’s offices.

“My argument is that if there are going to be decentralized accounts, there should be a resolution specifically authorizing their existence and dictating the reporting requirements. The county board is responsible for any funds that flow through the county,” Lee said in an interview. “If people are not authorized to have the decentralized accounts, that money needs to be turned over to the county treasurer.”

Some of the accounts, Lee said, have no internal control policies in place that govern their activities. And he said there is no known legal authority for some of the accounts to be outside the county treasury.

In many cases, according to Lee’s audit, the bank listing of account numbers differed from the account numbers of record held by the county.

‘MORE EYES ON THEM’

Although Lee’s office is not suggesting any wrongdoing, offline accounts in other places have resulted in serious consequences. In 2012, federal authorities discovered Dixon’s bookkeeper, Rita Crundwell, kept a secret checking account on behalf of the city, allowing her to steal more than $50 million. She was later convicted.

More recently, former LaSalle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne was indicted for alleged misspending. He used a decentralized account containing drug seizure money to pay for airfare, meals and hotel expenses for conferences in Orlando and Las Vegas.

In 2009, the Kankakee County Board adopted a resolution requiring the finance department to oversee all offline accounts. Under the resolution, the auditor’s office must review the claims on the accounts and the finance department must enter the claims into its database.

But the clerk’s, circuit clerk’s and sheriff’s offices have not reported the information to the finance department, officials say. The elected officials heading the departments have changed since 2009.

Lee recommended the county follow the resolution. And State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said the board was within its powers to require information from elected officials.

“The authority to decentralize accounts comes with the obligation to comply with the board-imposed reporting measures,” Rowe said in an email.

County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said earlier this week he was unaware of the resolution until Lee’s audit was released. He suspected it was never followed because the elected officials heading the departments at the time believed the board had no power to require such procedures on largely independent offices.

Wheeler said he wanted to find out what the law requires on decentralized accounts, contending that spending needs checks and balances. He said the county’s outside auditor performs tests on the offline accounts.

“We’re going to look more into it,” he said. “We have been monitoring these accounts. We want more eyes on them.”

State’s Attorney Rowe sent an opinion on the 14 accounts to Lee in October. For many of the accounts, Rowe identified state laws that he said allows the elected officials to keep the accounts separate from the county’s normal checks and balances. State law, meanwhile, is silent on other accounts, he said.

On Friday afternoon, Wheeler emailed the Daily Journal saying he had just become aware of the state’s attorney’s opinion the day before.

“I wish (Lee) would have shared it with me and our elected officials before he took to social media with his derogatory remarks about us all. Speaking just for the board, we continually work to improve our operations, and welcome constructive input that complies with appropriate laws and standards,” Wheeler said. “As I read through the opinion and compare to what we have done in this regard, I am happy to say that we are in full compliance to the state’s attorney’s recommendations.”

He added he was disappointed “by the continual assault on the integrity of our elected officials by the elected auditor. I have faith in the integrity of these individuals and am proud to serve with them.”

‘LIKELY BE IGNORED’

Lee emailed a draft of his audit to the elected officials about three weeks before he released it, seeking their input. Before that, he said he had been seeking information on the accounts from the offices for months.

In an interview, Sheriff Mike Downey seemed put off by the way Lee went about revealing the audit. He said the auditor never called him and only emailed the draft, to which Downey said he did not respond.

“He never said what he was going to do with the draft,” the sheriff said.

Lee sent the draft audit to the officials 27 days before he released it to the public.

“I ask that you all review the report and let me know if you would like to meet to discuss the report further. Please note that a nonresponse will be considered concurrence with the report,” he said.

Downey said he did not like the message Lee attached to his Facebook post about the audit.

The auditor wrote, “Another audit completed! There are several recommendations that will likely be ignored, but at least we’re trying!”

Downey said his office would be “more than happy” to cooperate with Lee.

“There are no issues with the money we have,” the sheriff said.

Regarding his Facebook comment, Lee said his recommendations are typically ignored. “If the shoe fits, sorry,” he said.

County Clerk Dan Hendrickson showed an email he sent to Lee over the summer. It detailed the purposes of the accounts and citations in state law that he said allowed decentralization.

He said he was willing to give Lee information to help the auditor verify the accounts.

“If Jake needs to talk to people at First Trust Bank, I don’t have any issue with that at all,” Hendrickson said.

Shortly after Lee sent the draft audit to Hendrickson, the county clerk wrote back, “I have received your report, and will review as time permits, but until I am able to review this, (I) am not issuing concurrence or denial of the contents. I will provide feedback to you once I have properly reviewed.”

Circuit Clerk Sandra Cianci couldn’t be reached for comment.

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