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BGA: 'Plenty of blame to go around' in oversight of Lyons Township School Treasurer's Office

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 1:47 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:52 a.m. CDT

Former Lyons Township School Treasurer Robert Healy was charged with stealing more than $1.5 million over a 20-year period, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced Thursday.

Healy, 54, of La Grange Highlands, was charged with theft of governmental property and official misconduct, both felony charges. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison. Healy was arrested Aug. 14 and appeared for a bond hearing Thursday in Chicago. Cook County Judge James Brown set his bail at $100,000, and Healy’s next court date is Sept. 4.

According to prosecutors, Healy added compensation to his paychecks, or gave himself additional salary and benefits of more than $630,000 starting in 1989 and continuing through April 2012.

Healy also is alleged to have made 105 wire transfers out of the township's bank account to a personal account between February 2002 and April 2011 of more than $900,000, along with a wire transfer in July 2011 to cover the down payment on the purchase a "luxury vehicle" for more than $7,500. In total, prosecutors say Healy stole $1,538,747.61.

Healy also faces an ongoing civil lawsuit from the Lyons Township Trustees of Schools, who are trying to recover about $900,000 that would be repaid to the 13 school districts managed by the treasurer’s office, said Mike Thiessen, one of three trustees who was hired after Healy’s resignation on Aug. 31, 2012.

The Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office, located in La Grange Park, manages more than $280 million in public funds for districts in the western suburbs, including La Grange, Western Springs, La Grange Park, Lyons, La Grange Highlands and Burr Ridge. The office, which Healy oversaw, also manages payroll, billing and bookkeeping functions.

The Lyons Township School Treasurer's office and the Lyons Township Trustees of Schools should not be confused with Lyons Township High School District 204 or its Board. The township trustees and treasurer's office oversee finances for the district.

Better Government Association says school districts 'asleep at the switch'

Healy resigned on Aug. 31, 2012, as the Better Government Association prepared to release a report alleging that Healy paid himself more than $500,000 in unused vacation, sick and personal time.

"The BGA is pleased that prosecutors took this case seriously, and rooted out alleged misconduct within the Lyons Township School Treasurer's Office,” the BGA said Friday in an email statement to the Suburban Life.

“Even though small, the treasurer's office is a hugely important agency that handles many millions of dollars destined for the education of public school children. The BGA has said before that, aside from any alleged improprieties by now-former treasurer Robert Healy, this case was disturbing because the board that was elected to oversee Healy was clearly asleep at the switch – as were most of the school districts that should have been keeping a better eye on their money. There's plenty of blame to go around."

In 2012, the BGA started an investigation into Healy after a report by government transparency group For the Good of Illinois revealed that Healy’s salary jumped from $163,000 in 2010 to $295,000 in 2011. The BGA investigated for several months, hiring a consultant to dig through numerous financial records, before breaking the story in September 2012.

As Healy’s alleged wrongdoings came to light, Ed Maloney, a former member of the treasurer’s office's three-person board of trustees, resigned. Maloney, who is now a Cook County Circuit Judge, was replaced by Mike Thiessen, the only member of the board with a professional financial background, the BGA wrote on its website.

BGA: Healy lacked financial experience, hired friends to invest school's money

Healy also lacked financial experience, the BGA said, and hired friends to invest money for the 13 school districts he oversaw.

“He was investing taxpayer money in questionable places, with financial firms charging questionable fees,” the BGA wrote on its website.

Over 23 years of alleged wrongdoings, none of the 13 districts whose funds were managed by Healy blew the whistle. But Thiessen said Healy’s actions were so secretive that the schools were powerless.

"In the past, many of the schools did not know what [Healy] was investing in,” Thiessen said. "They didn't even know whether they were asking the right questions or not because they weren't getting information."

Thiessen said the office has implemented a number of checks and balances since Healy’s resignation. Thiessen and the board’s two other trustees, Theron Tobolski and Karen Civinelli, have access to all wire transfers made by Clyde Bradley, the interim treasurer. Along with an eight-member staff, they also approve all checks written by the office, Thiessen said.

"We'll know within four or five days if there's been an unauthorized wire transfer,” Thiessen said.

Since Healy’s departure, the office has switched audit firms and investment managers and also implemented a budget, which was absent under Healy.

Under Healy’s management, schools were lucky to receive a statement on their cash reserves quarterly, Thiessen said. Now, they can view the accounts any time.

Lyons Township High School wants out

Still, Healy’s alleged mismanagement has at least one district trying to free itself from the treasurer’s office.

Earlier this year, Lyons Township High School District 204 asked state Rep. Jim Durkin to file a bill that would allow the district to withdraw jurisdiction from the treasurer’s office and appoint its own treasurer. The bill, filed in February, passed the House in April but was shot down in the Senate.

Currently, the district is refusing to pay a $254,000 bill for services from the treasurer’s office because it was a 17 percent increase from the previous year’s bill, according to media reports. The treasurer’s office said the bill is higher because Healy misstated the amount owed by the district.

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