Wongs woes mount: From 21 to 30 counts and no end in sight
by Mike Kroll
Tuesday April 22nd was yet another bad day for Knox County Clerk Marc Wong. That was his first official court date as he was arraigned on 28 counts of felony forgery, one count of felony theft over $10,000 and one new count of willful failure to file or filing of false or incomplete information regarding campaign finances (a class B misdemeanor). This represents an additional nine counts filed that day by Knox County States Attorney Paul Mangieri over the original 21 counts filed on March 19th. The adjusted total dollar value of $17,593.56 in allegedly forged checks combines checks written against both the Citizens for Moffitt campaign committee as well as the Knox County Republican Central Committee. Wong, represented by Galesburg attorney Kim Norton, pled "not guilty" on all counts and asked for a jury trial. The judge has not yet set a date for the next hearing in this matter.
The original charges filed against Wong allege that he altered 20 checks drawn on the campaign account of his political mentor, State Representative Don Moffitt, totaling $14,093. Photocopies of microfilms of the checks show them made payable to either Wong himself or his campaign committee. Wong, who was arrested by Galesburg Police detectives that afternoon, spent one night in the Knox County Jail before being released on a $25,000 bond. Wong soon resumed his duties as County Clerk and apparently intends to remain at his office until these matters are formally resolved.
Wongs arrest sent shockwaves throughout the Knox County Courthouse and also across the spectrum of people involved in local and state Republican politics. Wong was the local Republican Partys brightest star before this incident and just last November won his current post by defeating Democratic incumbent Steve Buck by a mere 41 votes to become the first Republican to hold this office in over 30 years.
Buck is understandably livid over what appears to be a literal theft of the election by Wong. According to official reports filed by the candidates with the Illinois State Board of Elections, Wong acknowledged outspending Buck $14,455 to $12,248 but it now appears as though Wong spend at least an additional $15,577 from Moffitts campaign funds without accounting for the added funds in his campaign financing reports.
When news of Wongs arrest and the details of his alleged misappropriation of Moffitts campaign funds was first detailed in news reports, Buck stated that he felt the evidence supported charges of election violations against Wong including perjury. To Bucks interpretation of Illinois statutes, Wongs alleged criminal conduct clearly includes a willful failure to fully account for the entire sum of funds spent on his campaigns behalf in the last election. "Marc Wong not only appears to have stolen from Don Moffitt but his actions also had the effect of stealing the position of Knox County Clerk from me and the voters who participated in last Novembers election."
According to state statute, "[a]ny person who makes a false statement, material to the issue or point in question which he does not believe to be true, in any affidavit, certificate or sworn oral declaration required by any provision of the Election Code shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony of perjury. Any person who is convicted of violating this Section shall be ineligible for public employment for a period of 5 years immediately following the completion of his sentence. For the purpose of this subsection, public employment shall mean any elected or appointed office created by the Constitution or laws of this state, or any ordinance of a unit of local government. Public employment shall also include any position as an employee of the State of Illinois, or a unit of local government, or school district."
Moffitt and Buck are not the only politicians who feel victimized by Wongs actions. The Knox County Republican Central Committee quickly grasped the potential for Wong to have taken similar liberties with their checking account in his former role as vice chair of the central committee. "We felt that it was our duty to conduct a full and complete internal investigation of our party funds and complete an audit of the central committee books to determine if similar thefts had been committed with our funds," explained Knox County Republican Central Committee chair Gene Stull.
On the evening of the April 1st Consolidated Election (which Wong oversaw as County Clerk) the local Republican Central Committee met to discuss the criminal charges pending against him as well as the potential for him to have perpetrated similar thefts from the central committee checking account or other party funds. Stull had previously asked Wong to resign as precinct committeeman, vice chair and as Knox County Clerk. While Wong did agree to step aside from his party posts he refused to step aside as County Clerk.
Legally, Wong cannot be forced from that position until he either pleads guilty to some or all of these charges or is found guilty at trial. While many observers, including Stull and other political officials in both Republican and Democratic circles, are aghast that Wong has not chosen to voluntarily take a leave of absence (even if paid). "Its just so frustrating," comments Stull, "I mean, come on, gosh how far does Marc intend to drag this out pleading innocent after admitting to the charges during police questioning? This is like a bad nightmare that never seems to end."
Stulls nightmare officially became very real as Mangieri added the nine additional charges against Wong following investigation of the Republican Party books. A total of eight additional forged checks were uncovered totally $3,500. All were made payable to Wong, endorsed by him and deposited via an ATM into his personal account. The checks were written during a time frame between August 14, 2001 through April 8, 2002 and range in value from $150 to $1,000. All but one were completely fabricated rather than altered and in most cases a notation of "reimbursement" was placed on the memo line of the check. One check was originally made out to Gallatin River (telephone company) in the amount of $102.35 but altered to be payable to Wong in the amount of $500.
No criminal charges have been filed against Wong yet in two other matters related to potential theft of Republican party funds that were uncovered as part of their investigation. Last week, as reported in the Zephyr, brand new office furniture was purchased from Staples, delivered to Wongs office in the Knox County Courthouse and billed to a credit card belonging to the Knox County Republican Central Committee. The party officials disputed those charges and the matter remains unsettled.
Furthermore, Stull said Tuesday night that some six to eight checks made out as donations to the Knox County Republicans were discovered uncashed and unaccounted for during their investigation. "They were found among paperwork formerly handled by Marc and some dated back to 2001." While no one can know for sure whether this was simply carelessness on Wongs part or part of a stash of checks being secreted for future alteration, it suggests the possibility that still more checks may have been altered and cashed by Wong but not yet discovered.
As the charges against Marc Wong continue to pile up, speculation is that his "not guilty" plea and request for a jury trial is nothing more than a stalling tactic. As long as he refuses to voluntarily step aside, he has every legal right to continue functioning as Knox County Clerk with full and unimpeded access to a wide range of official and legal documents that could wet the whistle of anyone with a bent toward theft, forgery, identity theft or numerous other forms of fraud. As one local attorney pointed out, "This is a situation that would not be tolerated under almost other circumstance outside of an elected official and the public has every right to be indignant. Illinois law affords no apparent remedy short of criminal conviction."