COD public records destruction and the public trust
One year ago, on April 13, 2015, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon empaneled a grand jury and subpoenaed College of DuPage records relating to spending, personnel, reimbursement, and “emails sent or received by the president, trustees, and senior management personnel” from Jan. 1, 2009, to the present. Unfortunately, we’ve now learned the feds won’t be getting many of the emails, because college administrators destroyed them.
Illinois statutes outline when, what and why local governments can destroy public records. Under no circumstances would the Illinois Secretary of State, Archives Records Management — the state body in charge of permissions — green-light record destructions pertaining to an ongoing or anticipated civil litigation or criminal prosecutions.
But, that appears to be exactly what’s happened at COD.
Incredibly, public record destruction permissions continued into May 2015, despite U.S. attorney subpoenas and grand juries, Internal Revenue Service special audits, a state’s attorney indictment, a special Illinois auditor general audit, internal COD forensic audit investigations, official record-retention-hold orders by the board and state and federal laws prohibiting record destruction during ongoing criminal and civil litigation.
Last month, the sheer scale of the public records destruction was unveiled in a five-part series by the good-government group, the Edgar County Watchdogs. Later, COD Vice President of Information Technology Charles Currier gave board testimony admitting that COD destroyed some records and then posthumously asked the state later for permission, which was granted.
Here are some more highlights of COD record destruction:
• Even after the U.S. attorney subpoenas, COD continued to petition for and received “permission” from the state to destroy more records through the summer of 2015.
• In 2011, COD successfully petitioned the state to destroy four years of radio station audits, even though some officials at the college had been notified that its chief radio station engineer had participated in fraudulent billings to his own company while moonlighting at Elmhurst College. In 2015, the engineer was arrested on fraud charges involving more than $100,000 in allegedly false billings over the course of seven years.
• In 2014, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com quantified more than $200 million in no-bid contracts to COD foundation board members. The foundation was supposedly an independent charity, but COD successfully petitioned the state to destroy charitable audits, papers, and financial records in 2012.
• Even after the newly elected “Clean Slate” board majority passed a document retention hold to preserve all evidence for the investigators of the Illinois Auditor General, internal forensic auditors and law enforcement officials, COD administrators somehow successfully petitioned the state for more email record destruction.
• Finally, on April 1, 2016, the state archive agency issued a moratorium to “suspend all COD record disposal activities.’
Remember the front-page article at Daily Herald by reporter Robert Sanchez on July 7, 2015, detailing millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies whose principals had donated tens of thousands of dollars to a political action committee founded by two COD senior managers? All of those email records from the $162 million 2010 bond referendum election are destroyed. It’s harder for the feds to prove “pay-to-play” if the records are missing.
Remember the Hinsdale mom Kathy Hamilton who stood up against the COD machine and started asking tough questions after winning in the 2013 COD trustee election? Looks like that kicked the public record destruction program into high gear. In five previous years (2008-2012), COD made only nine requests to destroy records. Yet, in the follow years through 2015, COD made 44 state records destruction requests. Two of the COD destruction requests came after the “Clean Slate” swept the April 2015 elections.
Now, all email correspondence at COD older than April 30, 2014, has been destroyed. As part of the Dr. Robert Breuder termination paperwork, we learned that his college-issued iPad was wiped clean — restored to factory resets on April 28, 2015.
Sometimes, a cover-up is easier to catch, prosecute and convict than the initial allegations of lawbreaking. In the case of COD, we hope that law enforcement at every level now has the leverage necessary to bring real accountability to any violators of the public trust.
Adam Andrzejewski is the founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com.