The past practices of the
Cook County Public Administrator's Office cost taxpayers at least
$227,871 in missing funds and possibly millions more in sweetheart
contracts, a new audit indicates.
The office is supposed to protect the assets of those
who die without a will or with an executor who is incapable. But an
audit by McGovern & Greene LLP found that before 2003, estate funds
were commingled and estates with negative balances were subsidized by
others with positive balances.
At least some checks were outright stolen from one
estate to the tune of $3,198, and about $3 million was spent on estate
services that were questionable, the account found. Some of the
companies hired to "manage" estates weren't even incorporated or
registered with the state when they were given the contracts, county
auditor Laura Burman found.
Nicholas G. Grapsas, the new county public
administrator who took over in November, told county board members
Tuesday that he has since separated each estate and instituted many of
Burman's recommendations for cleaning up the office.
Still, he admitted, county taxpayers had to fork out at
least $227,871 to make up for a deficit in the office's fund that had
to be repaid to the estates.
The audit has actually been completed for some time,
but was withheld while the Cook County state's attorney's office was
consulted, which in turn passed it to the Illinois attorney general's
office for criminal investigation. That office in turn forwarded the
matter to the FBI, which recently determined no criminal charges would
be filed, said Grapsas.
Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica was livid at the news.
"The statute of limitations ran out (and the county says), 'Sorry, sorry, sorry.' And the problem goes away," he scoffed.
Prior administrators are long gone, and at least one
county employee was fired as a result of the investigation, noted Cook
County Finance Chairman John Daley.