Courthouse saga continues:

audit results begin trickling out

 

by Mike Kroll

the Zephyr, Galesburg

 

Before Wednesday night's Knox County Board meeting chair Allen Pickrel held a press conference to make public the first tidbit of information to come out of audits examining the Sheriff's Department and the State's Attorney's office. The accounting firm Carpentier, Mitchell, Goddard & Company studied office expenses over a three year  time period covering December 1, 2003 through November 30, 2006. In a single paragraph letter to the county board dated January 19, 2008 they report "missing, incomplete or improper documentation for expenditures ...from the two departments totaling 175 item at $65,944." And concluded the letter, “this information will be part of our entire report when it becomes available.”

This audit was commissioned by the county board late last spring and they hired the same accounting firm that handles the regular annual audit to reexamine the two departments' financial transactions for the previous three year period. It has been over six months since the accountants began this audit and we recently learned that the complete report will not come out prior to the February 5, 2008 primary election. The original motivation originated with charges of financial misconduct against former Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri and former Knox County Sheriff Jim Thompson that came out as part of the seemingly never-ending courthouse saga that began one year ago.

It was a year ago that Mangieri was appointed to fill a seat on the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court on an interim basis until the 2008 election. As Mangieri resigned his State's Attorney role and promoted Galesburg attorney John Pepmeyer to be appointed to serve until the same election a fuse was lit on a controversy that has captivated and enraged county residents and officials alike and that continues today. This controversy began with charges of sexual harassment against Pepmeyer by women in the State's Attorney's office and quickly grew to involve allegations that both Mangieri and Thompson neglected their respective duties and engaged in a coverup of illegal or inappropriate activities by themselves or their subordinates.

In the months that followed state, federal and private investigators searched high and low for evidence against Pepmeyer, Mangieri and Thompson and the former sheriff retired and moved from the area in the midst of the controversy. Civil lawsuits were files in federal court against Pepmeyer that remain in limbo currently but state investigators have long since announced that they could find no credible evidence to support criminal charges against Pepmeyer. Meanwhile the investigations into both Mangieri and Thompson quietly persist and no announcements have been made as to their status.

Pepmeyer continues to serve as State's Attorney and Mangieri continues to sit on the bench. Both men are candidates for election in the February 5th Democratic primary, Pepmeyer without opposition and Mangieri faces Knox County Public Defender Jim Harrell. County officials had publicly hoped that the results of the various investigations and audits would be complete and made public prior to the primary.

Just this past week Mangieri responded to criticism of his handling of financial matters as State's Attorney by saying his record was clear and his paper trail sufficient while he held that office. He claimed to have fully documented all financial transactions of his former office. Contacted regarding the seemingly contradictory preliminary finding by the auditors Mangieri responded:

“No one else has asked me for any information regarding this audit. I'm willing to cooperate or help in any way but I have no idea what they want. I simply do not understand why no auditors or county officials have contacted me for additional information or clarification on the expenses within the Knox County State's Attorney's office. It must also be understood that at no time did I ever have control of the Knox County checkbook. Every request for payment that I made needed to go though the Knox County Board for approval and the checks were issued by the County Treasurer and County Clerk.”

Knox County Treasurer Robin Davis has received no more information from the auditors than is contained in the letter and was therefore unable to comment on what types of transactions are involved or how much was traceable to either department. What she did say was that throughout Mangieri's term of office that both she and a variety of county board members regularly questioned the bills submitted by both the Sheriff's and State's Attorney's offices.

“Paul Mangieri refused to stand by and have anything he did in office questioned by any other local official. If we threatened to not approve and pay bills he submitted he threatened to hold me personally in contempt of court and even threatened to have the sheriff arrest and jail me. He used his position regularly to circumvent county procedures and policies that everyone else was expected to follow and that included the accounting controls in my department. Paul was not beneath raising his voice and getting very emotional when out of the public view and he effectively intimidated his way more times than I can count. His argument was that the county board had no legal power to request him to do anything he didn't want to do or even to question how he spent tax dollars.”

Pickrel echoed many of the comments made by Davis. “I'm damn frustrated that this audit has taken so long but we strongly suspected that there would be problems given Mr. Mangieri's repeated refusal to conform to requests for backup documentation on his office's expenses. It wasn't a matter of the county board wanting to treat either the Sheriff's or State's Attorney's offices differently than other county departments but rather that our hands were effectively tied by the mutual refusal to cooperate by Thompson and Mangieri. They went so far as to threaten that the Sheriff would arrest us and that Paul would prosecute us for interfering in the conduct of his office. Outside of public view Mangieri exercised the power of his office as a club against anyone who stood in his way. And I can say with complete confidence that many other county board members were similarly intimidated by Mangieri.”

According to Knox County Clerk Scott Erickson the auditing firm has been paid $28,485.75 to-date for this audit and the meter is still running.

 

1/24/08