Feds May Probe Possible Niles Corruption
Remember those $100,000 bonuses, gifts of cars that were never officially approved? Niles trustees will vote July 24 on whether to send info to U.S. Attorney to investigate.
The Niles board of trustees is trying to determine what to do regarding potentially improper or illegal actions taken by the previous administration.
At its June meeting, the board scheduled a July 24 vote on whether to forward information on the potential improprieties to the U.S. Attorney and Illinois State's attorney, trustee Rosemary Palicki said. Those agencies would then investigate whether the potential improprieties were illegal.
"The U.S. attorney's role is to police any corruption," said Joe Annunzio, Niles' village attorney.
Read more: Niles' way of doing business has changed
The potential improprieties include a $100,000 bonus and a car awarded to former village manager Abe Selman when he retired in 2002, a $100,000 bonus and car awarded to former village manager Mary Kay Morrissey when she retired in 2005, and other gifts or vehicles of lesser amounts.
Perks would have been OK if approved, but no evidence they were
While those would have been fine if the village board had approved them, no evidence exists in agendas or board meeting minutes that they did. Village Manager George Van Geem was able to find a memo from former mayor Nicholas Blase, who spent time in prison for fraud, which directed him to award the bonuses and perks.
Law firms: This was illegal, have it investigated
"Those (law) firms basically said this (the awarding of bonuses, vehicles and perks without official approval by the Niles village board) was illegal," said Niles Trustee Chris Hanusiak.
"Based on what they received, the law firms said to submit this information to the U.S. Attorney and state's attorney."
Hanusiak added the village might turn over information to those agencies even before July 24.
Request for law firms' letters was rejected
Niles Patch filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the letters the two law firms sent to the village of Niles, but that request was turned down in an email received July 5, on the grounds that it was prepared for a public body in anticipation of a criminal, civil or administrative proceeding. Under the law, such information may remain private, at least for the time being.
Hanusiak said the fault does not lie with the former employees who received the perks. Perhaps the most important part of the perks were the vehicles handed out, for free or nominal charges, because the law states those must be open for bids, he said.
Ten years later, how to unravel this?
At this point, the village is trying to figure out what obligations it has in these cases. Since the perks were given as much as 10 years ago, it's not clear whether any person or public body is or was culpable of wrongdoing.
"That's why we have to give it over to somebody who can unravel it. The U.S. Attorney can tell you what needs to be done," Hanusiak said.