Marc Wong: Was it Avarice or Arrogant Ambition that brought his downfall?
By Mike Kroll
As if the photocopies of the allegedly altered and/or forged checks released by Knox County States Attorney Paul Mangieri were not damning enough in the Marc Wong case Galesburg Police reports indicate that Wong admitted his guilt during a videotaped interview. Wong, who was elected Knox County Clerk by a mere 41 votes last November was charged with 20 counts of forgery (a class 3 felony) and a single count of felony theft over $10,000 one week ago. Mangieris charges allege that Wong stole $14,093.56 from the campaign account of Wongs political mentor State Representative Don Moffitt.
Knox County Courthouse employees and others were shocked and saddened to discover that Galesburg Police officers arrested Wong in his Courthouse office early Wednesday afternoon March 19th. Earlier that same day two Galesburg detectives had asked Wong to accompany them to the Public Safety Building for questioning. After being given his Miranda warning police reports indicate that Wong waived his right to counsel during initial questioning and consented to the interview being videotaped. On that tape Wong allegedly admitted that there were "several discrepancies" in the Citizens for Moffitt checking account early in the interview.
According to official reports this drama began sometime in late December of last year when Moffitt and his wife Carolyn began receiving telephone calls from vendors to the Moffitt campaign requesting payment for overdue invoices. The confused Moffitts went to the campaigns treasurer Sally Keener, who also happens to be the chair of the Knox County Board. Keener then checked the ledger she maintained for the campaign checking account to verify that indeed checks had been prepared and sent to cover the vendors in question.
Although the Moffitt campaign appeared to have paid the bills the vendors insisted no payment had been received. Citizens for Moffitt, like many household and business accounts today, did not pay the extra bank fee to receive cancelled checks with their bank statement. Therefore, there was no simple way to verify that the vendors had indeed cashed the checks. Don then requested that F&M Bank, where the checking account was kept, provide photocopies of the cancelled checks in question.
Moffitt and his wife began the tedious process of comparing photocopies of checks to the campaign records and check ledgers. All this was made more difficult by the fact that the check processing plant was in Minneapolis and owned by Wells Fargo since their acquisition of both Norwest Bank and the parent company of what was then Marquette Bank. Furthermore, actual copies of cancelled checks that are not returned to account owners are routinely shredded every three-six months once they have been microfilmed. The photocopies must be made from the microfilm and Moffitts campaign had to pay a fee for each check copied.
The first two checks identified were number 2151 and 2194 in the amounts of $1,391.50 and $344.00 respectively. The first was supposed to go to Personal Service Company while the second was originally made out to The Paper; both were deposited into Wongs personal account via an ATM according to the police report. Moffitt couldnt believe what he was seeing and assumed that there just had to be a good explanation for this discrepancy.
"When I first saw the checks I couldnt believe my eyes, the very notion that Marc might have done this was unbelievable to me," explained Moffitt. "This whole episode has been a very difficult time for me and my wife. When you have people working for you it becomes natural to trust them. My trust and total confidence in Marc was almost like what one has in a spouse. I was just sure there was a good explanation for this mess because to believe otherwise was simply incomprehensible."
The general procedure of the Moffitt campaign was pretty simple. They used a two-signature system as a check and balance on all checks written on the Citizens for Moffitt account. They operated as if both Don and Keeners signatures were required on every check. This it turns out was in error. To Moffitts astonishment current bank policy is not to refuse any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of check signatures. Banks today operate as if it is solely the responsibility of the account owner to verify checks once they are cashed. However, with fewer and fewer of us paying the extra fee to have our cancelled checks returned this hardly seems a reasonable expectation.
All vendor bills to Citizens for Moffitt were sent to the campaigns Knoxville Post Office Box 94. Wong had one of the three keys and it was his responsibility to retrieve the mail and present bills to Keener for checks. Keener maintained control of the checkbook and would handwrite and sign checks (below the normal signature line) for bills presented by Wong. Wong was then presumably to get a second signature from Don before mailing the payment to the vendor. Moffitts signature was supposed to signify his ultimate approval of the expenditure. The Moffitts and Keener told Galesburg Police that at no time was Wong allowed to sign Dons name or authorized to use any form of facsimile signature on these checks. A computer scanned facsimile signature was kept on the campaigns laptop computers however for use on regular campaign letters and Wong regularly employed this tactic with Moffitts approval in preparing letters.
Concerned about what appeared to be a mishandling of campaign funds but incapable of believing Wong could do such a thing Moffitt decided to consult with an attorney for guidance. "I had used Doug Mustain for other types of legal consultations and I asked him if it was appropriate to ask Marc about these checks," said Moffitt. "He suggested that it was the place to start." On January 19th Moffitt took former Knox County Republican Chairman Frank Gustine along as a witness as he confronted Wong about checks 2151 and 2194."
Police records indicate that Gustine and Moffitts recollection of this meeting was that Wong acknowledged altering the two checks to make them payable to him personally. Wong allegedly also told the two men that he had not altered any other checks. Moffitt then asked Wong about six to eight checks that had not yet cleared the bank and Wong told them they had been mailed to the vendors in question. The checks in question were subsequently found at Knox County Republican Headquarters on East Main Street in downtown Galesburg. Don also requested that Wong return the two laptop computers belonging to Citizens for Moffitt and was told hed get them by February 1st according to the police report.
February 1st came and went with no sign of the laptops and more and more questionable checks attracting attention. Carolyn Moffitt had by now begun to match up photocopies of cancelled checks with the check ledger maintained by Keener and the discrepancies continued to mount. "My wifes become quite the detective through this process," commented Moffitt. By mid-February the decision was made to confront Wong again.
So, ironically enough, on Valentines Day Don again met with Wong and asked for the laptop computers. Moffitt also told Marc that another altered check had come back from the bank. The police report indicated that when Moffitt presented Wong with a copy of check 2135, shown as a voided check in the register but dated "9-19-02" and altered to pay $1,500.00 to "Marc Wong" that "Marc broke down into tears and admitted changing the check." Wong also allegedly offered to repay Moffitt with four post-dated checks corresponding to the amounts mentioned above plus $1,611.78 for check 2197 originally made payable to Kellogg Printing on 11-27-02 but altered to make Wong the payee before it was deposited into his personal account via ATM.
Wong allegedly made out four checks dated 2-14-03, 3-1-03, 3-15-03 and 4-1-03 totaling $4,847.28. These dates closely match the bi-monthly pay dates for Knox County employees. Moffitt accepted the four checks but says he told Wong that it would be necessary for him to check with an attorney to see if this was appropriate. Moffitt never did cash these four personal checks of Wong numbered 1227, 1228, 1229 and 1230 and they have been turned over to Galesburg Police.
At this Valentines Day meeting Moffitt reportedly insisted that Wong turn over the two laptop computers. Apparently this demand was not well received by Wong who reportedly grew quite angry. This was the last time Moffitt and Wong have spoken. The two men who were once so close have apparently severed their close relationship. This is a very sad and painful estrangement for the Moffitts who had come to think of Marc almost like a son. "There was once 100 percent trust between Marc and myself," acknowledged Don. "Now I am devastated and hurt and disappointed all at once. I just hope that one this is all done and over with that Marc will seek professional help and get his life back on track. He has been one of the most promising young persons I have ever known."
With the laptops finally in their possession it now became possible to expand further the amateur investigation. By now the Moffitts had to be coming to the realization that however much they may have wished for a good counter-explanation it was becoming increasingly clear that this was a criminal matter. As more and more check photocopies were requested and compared the number of apparently altered and forged checks escalated well beyond the four Wong had apparently acknowledged his involvement. "As we discovered more and more it became clear to me that all of this happened in Galesburg so I determined that the Galesburg Police were the appropriate authorities. On March 10th Moffitt presented the evidence they had discovered to date to Galesburg Police Chief John Schlaf.
By the time Moffitt went to Schlaf he had evidence of at least 34 checks from the Citizens for Moffitt account that had apparently been altered, forged or otherwise falsely represented for payment. Many of the checks were made payable to Wong personally, others to Citizens for Wong (his campaign organization for the County Clerk race) or to vendors as payment for debts incurred by Wongs Knox County Clerk campaign.
Sixteen checks totaling $11,917.06 and originally made out to various vendors were allegedly altered to pay Wong personally. These checks were endorsed by hand with "Marc C. Wong" and deposited via ATM into Wongs personal account. On four of these checks (2015, 2019, 2025 & 2146) Moffitts signature is clearly forged, on six others a computer-generated facsimile of Moffitts signature has been used. Moffitts real signature appears on six of these checks and only Keener signed one.
Three other checks totaling $2,156.38 were originally made payable to a vendor and altered to be payment to Citizens for Wong. Two of these checks had real Moffitt signatures while the third has a forged Moffitt signature Another check (2008) was altered to change the payee from Royal Publishing to Illinois Power and Moffitts signature is forged on this check. In all cases the forged signatures hold absolutely no resemblance to Moffitts legitimate signature.
These 20 checks account for the first 20 counts of forgery filed against Wong but the Moffitts have uncovered fourteen other questionable checks totaling $19,979.95 that they turned over to Galesburg Police. In nine of these checks were allegedly written against the Citizens for Moffitt account to pay for Citizens for Wong expenses, in whole or part, and coming to a total "involuntary campaign contribution" of $13,635.95.
Four of these checks, totaling $7,243.13 were apparently paid to the Post Office for postage related to the County Clerk campaign. Galesburg Police reports say that Wong admitted using these funds to pay for a fundraising mailer and three different sets of campaign flyers sent out toward the end of the campaign. In one case Wong is alleged to have convinced Carolyn Moffitt to sign Dons name to a check for $3,300.59 in the belief that it was a mailing for Don. Moffitt and Wong had reportedly agreed to split the cost of billboards fifty-fifty but Citizens for Moffitt paid the entire billboard expense of $1,722.84. Citizens for Moffitt checks also paid Insight Communications $1,989.00 for cable TV commercials despite Moffitts claim that he did no such advertising (Wongs campaign did advertise on cable TV).
The final category of suspicious checks concerns five checks totaling $6,344.00 and made out to Wong personally. Apparently part of the agreement between Moffitt and Wong was that the Moffitt campaign would reimburse Wong for expenses he incurred on behalf of the campaign and in addition Wong was to be paid ten percent of the amount raised at fundraising events such as Dons picnic. On three of these checks Dons signature is forged and a facsimile is affixed to the other two.
When Galesburg Police interviewed Wong he is reported to have admitted changing the payee on the various checks by simply whiting out the original and replacing it. This crude method of alteration is fairly evident in the check photocopies but like the poor forgeries of Moffitts signature it is surprisingly amateurish for someone of Wongs acknowledged intelligence and talents. Moffitt was himself confused by this very issue, "When I first saw the check copies I couldnt believe Marc could have had anything to do with something of such poor quality craftsmanship."
While the Moffitts continue to search for more forged or altered checks it seems likely they will find more. The police reports say Wong admitted to having altered his first check in August or September 1999. Wong was first hired by Moffitt as his legislative assistant in Galesburg in August 1999ña post Wong held until the day he was sworn in as Knox County Clerk December 1, 2002. Under questioning by Galesburg detectives Wong is said to have explained his actions by pointing out that he "took a $9,000 pay cut to work for Moffitt." Official records indicate that Wongs 2002 salary from the State of Illinois was $24,000.
Wong is scheduled to make his first court appearance on April 4th. He has hired Galesburg attorney Kim Norton to represent him. Three days prior to that fateful day Wong will preside over his first, and most probably last, Knox County election as Knox County Clerk. If Wong either pleads guilty or is found guilty of a felony he would be forced to give up the County Clerk position and could quite likely be spending time in prison. Keener would then be responsible for appointing an acting County Clerk with the advice of the Knox County Republicans and the consent of the Knox County Board. Whoever is appointed would serve only until the November 2004 election.