US opened probe on payments for Ill. jobs program

May 1, 2012, 12:20 AM

AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois’ top transportation official said Monday she approved more than $3 million in questionable payments for a 2008 summer jobs program, which caught the interest of federal investigators, because arm-twisting from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office made her fear for her job.

Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider was the Department of Transportation’s finance director when Blagojevich’s office was pushing for rapid payment of $3.1 million to five nonprofits participating in the program.

Schneider said she ensured there would be follow-up scrutiny but approved the checks from the state’s highway construction fund despite evidence that participants were doing ineligible tasks unrelated to transportation, such as rearranging furniture, conducting community surveys and working at golf courses.

“We were trying to slow it down to make sure there were commonplace safeguards in place, but there was a great deal of pressure to get this done in a very short timeframe,” Schneider said in an interview.

A report released Monday by the state’s Executive Inspector General said the agency should seek reimbursement of nearly $644,000 it overpaid the nonprofits to hire teenagers under the program launched by Blagojevich. The impeached governor, who was convicted on unrelated corruption charges, began serving a prison sentence last month.

When the inspector general referred the matter in 2010 to the state attorney general, officials indicated it was part of a federal investigation, according to the report, which didn’t say who began the probe. U.S. attorney’s offices in Chicago and Springfield declined comment.

The report did not recommend any employees be disciplined but said an internal IDOT audit _ which Schneider said she ordered _ turned up the overpayments.

The $7.8 million program was part of Blagojevich’s response to a rash of Chicago shootings in early 2008. His Department of Human Services was in charge, and IDOT’s road fund was targeted as the checking account.

Monday’s report redacted names that surfaced during the investigation. But job titles remained, identifying Schneider and general counsel Ellen Schanzle-Haskins. It’s unclear whether other employees involved remain on staff. Schneider said the agency will “go forward” without penalizing anyone.

Asked Monday why she didn’t object to paying money without proper documentation, Schneider said: “That’s a good question.” But she said she and agency lawyers believed the payments were defensible given the agency allowed itself subsequent examination of the records.

She and Schanzle-Haskins both told investigators that they believed resistance would get them fired, according to the report.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn, Brooke Anderson, said senior IDOT managers have been “counseled on monitoring procedures and how to ensure this never happens again.” She said the administration implemented other recommended changes. However, those recommendations weren’t made public in the report.

Auditors who settled on repayment of $644,000 _ mostly unpaid payroll taxes _ said much more money was likely misspent but pursuing it would mean long legal battles over individual timesheets.

The reimbursement amounts to about 8 percent of the $7.8 million total, which investigators termed “as problematic as it was ambitious.” Schneider said the agency has recovered $170,000 from one organization but four others are contesting the issue.

The program reportedly employed 3,500 teens and young adults for eight weeks. The Department of Human Services denied an Associated Press public-records request last year for names of the participants.

IDOT officials approved the plan as long as road-fund money was used on transportation-related projects. But agreements weren’t signed with the nonprofits, which did the hiring, until well after the project was under way and IDOT didn’t monitor it.

The first half of the money was paid in August 2008. Timesheets necessary for the second payment in September were missing, vague or incomplete, or clearly showed ineligible work such as “conflict resolution class” and “event planning.”

Schneider told investigators she was “not necessarily happy” about arranging to use road money for the project. She said given the circumstances she did what she could to ensure accountability.

___

Online:

The report:
http://www2.illinois.gov/eec/Documents/04.25.2012%20IDOT%20Founded%20Released.pdf

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

North Texas shooter kills 2, wounds 3 cops, takes own life

HALTOM CITY, Texas (AP) — A gunman killed two people and wounded four others, including three police officers, before taking his own life Saturday evening in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, police said. Haltom City Police Det. Matt Spillane said early Sunday that all of those wounded in the shooting in a residential neighborhood had non-life […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 file photo, Associated Press Special Regional Correspondent f...
Associated Press

Hope and despair: Kathy Gannon on 35 years in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan policeman opened fire on us with his AK-47, emptying 26 bullets into the back of the car. Seven slammed into me, and at least as many into my colleague, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus. She died at my side. Anja weighed heavy against my shoulder. I tried to look […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 file photo, the logo of Google is displayed on a carpet at the...
Associated Press

Google to erase more location info as abortion bans expand

Google will automatically purge information about users who visit abortion clinics or other places that could trigger legal problems now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for states to ban the termination of pregnancies.
1 day ago
FILE - President Joe Biden, center, meets with South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Jap...
Associated Press

North Korea slams US-South Korea-Japan military cooperation

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Sunday slammed the United States, South Korea and Japan for pushing to boost their trilateral military cooperation targeting the North, warning that the move is prompting urgent calls for the country to reinforce its military capability. North Korea has long cited what it calls hostility by the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, second from left, stands during a news conference...
Associated Press

Uvalde schools’ police chief resigns from City Council

The Uvalde school district’s police chief has stepped down from his position in the City Council just weeks after being sworn in following allegations that he erred in his response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 students and two teachers dead. Chief Pete Arredondo said in a letter dated Friday […]
1 day ago
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass during an NFL football practice at FirstE...
Associated Press

Attorneys seek Deshaun Watson NFL investigation documents

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Attorneys for multiple women suing Deshaun Watson over allegations of sexual misconduct are seeking the documents from the NFL’s investigation into the former Houston Texans quarterback. According to the motion filed Friday by the women’s attorneys, Tony Buzbee and Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, the legal team seeks any and all reports and files […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
US opened probe on payments for Ill. jobs program