The Oak Lawn Leaf has learned exclusively that the United States Department of Justice, in an audit dated July 2014, found that the Village of Oak Lawn used Drug Forfeiture Funds for impermissible purposes and was ordered to pay the money back to the fund.
The final report, which was the subject of debate in June of last year, was withheld from the public and even the Village Board of Trustees since last July. The report was provided to the Oak Lawn Leaf by a credible source, who is not identified herein.
The audit covered the period of time from January 1, 2011, and September 30, 2013. During that period, the Oak Lawn Police Department received $529,278 in equitable sharing revenues and one vehicle valued at $24,375. The village agreed to repay an additional $13,796 back to forfeiture fund for the impermissible expenditures and to institute various financial procedures.
Two village officials confirmed that they had not seen the audit report even though it was issued in July of last year. Official village records indicate that the final report has never been presented to the Village Board at a public meeting despite the fact that the issue was debated in June of 2014.
Prior to the audit, the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the Justice Department determined that the Oak Lawn Police Department used equitable sharing funds to pay for impermissible expenses, which included the building of a 9/11 memorial, a gun buy back program not operated by the Oak Lawn PD, the purchase of Christmas ornaments, and a donation to a dance program.
According to the audit, “The Guide states that cash transfers to community-based programs are not permitted and that state and local law enforcement agencies are prohibited from making donations to support community-based programs. It also states that receiving agencies should use federal equitable sharing monies prudently, and in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of extravagance, waste, or impropriety.”
The audit made several recommendations regarding financial record keeping that were agreed to by the village to resolve the audit. The Village Manager, Larry Deetjen, and his supporters, including Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Terry Vorderer had argued that the expenditures were acceptable. However, the purpose of the audit was to determine if certain expenditures were allowable under federal equitable sharing guidelines.
The expenditures, which were made by Village Manager Larry Deetjen without the approval of the Board of Trustees, were returned to the Drug Forfeiture Fund after the Department of Justice insisted that the expenditures were in violation of the law. Despite the action by the U.S. Department of Justice the Village had continued to lobby both Congressman Dan Lipinski and the Department of Justice to overturn its own ruling.
The Village pays a federal lobbyist about $60,000 a year to lobby for the town at the federal level. Lipinski (D) who represents Oak Lawn in Congress contacted the Assistant US Attorney General at the Justice Department and asked the Justice Department for the office’s “basis” for denying the transfer of funds.
In a letter dated March 5, 2014, Peter Kadzik, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department, wrote to Lipinski explaining the reasons that the payment of village funds was improper, under the “Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies” which generally requires that the Drug Forfeiture Funds be used for law enforcement purposes. The Village Board of Trustees was not consulted about the use of the Drug Forfeiture Funds.
At a board meeting, Mayor Sandra Bury admitted that the funds were used and claimed that the village police officers had asked that the funds be used. However, the village has not produced any evidence publicly of requests by police officers to use the funds improperly.
Drug Forfeiture Funds are divided among all municipal, county and state governments with the federal government based on drug arrests and seizure of assets used in the sale or transportation of illegal narcotics. Despite the misuse of the funds, the majority of the Board of Trustees and Mayor Bury voted last week to continue to seek reimbursement from the Drug Asset Forfeiture Funds while agreeing to pay for granite additions to the memorial in the amount of $34,825.00.
Trustees Robert Streit (Dist 3) and Carol Quinlan (Dist. 5) voted against spending taxpayers’ funds on the project. Streit and Quinlan noted that Oak Lawn Rotary Club had originally promised that no public funds would be used on the memorial. Mayor Bury, who was not yet elected, spearheaded the fund-raising for the project and took credit for its “completion” in a ceremony in Springfield with Village Clerk Jane Quinlan.Despite claiming that the project was privately funded, it appears that public funds were also used. In fact, the agreement between the Rotary Club and the Village, which was signed by Village Manager Larry Deetjen without any board discussion, limited the village’s funding to providing the five beams from the World Trade Center and paying for architectural fees.
Review the audit below.