February 4, 2012 03:46 PM
Getting Charged Up In Maywood
After initially denying they have taxpayer-funded credit cards, government officials in the financially troubled western suburb release their credit card records—which show elaborate expenditures on the public dime. Among the big spenders: the ex-village manager who now serves as a Chicago alderman.
By Robert Herguth/BGA and Dane Placko/FOX Chicago
FOX Chicago News and the Better Government Association have found government leaders spending thousands of dollars on credit cards for trips, sports tickets and luxury resorts.
The former leader of Maywood is under fire Friday night for racking up more than $100,000 in expenses on a village credit card.
But this time there’s a twist.
When angry taxpayers asked to see the bills, the village allegedly lied—saying there were no credit cards.
Four politically active Maywood residents heard a rumor that village officials were given credit cards. As concerned citizens, they wanted to see how their tax dollars were being spent.
So they did what any citizen can do: they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, asking the village for copies of the credit card bills.
They weren't expecting to hear the negative response that they did.
Cheryl Ealey requested all credit card statements from Maywood’s former village manager.
A month later, she got a letter saying the village manager "did not have an expense account nor did he have his own credit card."
"This was an intolerable situation," BGA’s Andy Shaw said, "public officials simply refusing to comply with Freedom of Information requests."
The BGA put the four skeptical Maywood residents in touch with one of the largest law firms in the country—Kirkland and Ellis—which sued Maywood on their behalf at no cost.
As soon as the law firms got involved, they saw their FOIA requests answered.
Turns out village officials had several credit cards, and sure liked to use them.
Records show trips to Las Vegas, Montreal, San Antonio, Washington, Florida and Denver, to name a handful. One expense totaled $1,017 at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.
Many times, these expenses involved village trustees and their spouses.
One charge stated $2,700 for a skybox at a college football game at Soldier Field, along with more than $1,200 in food and drink to enjoy the game.
Fancy resorts were also on the list, including a bill for almost $9,000 at Eagle Ridge in Galena, Ill., hundreds of dollars at a lodge in Lake Geneva.
All told, Maywood officials charged nearly $150,000 on credit cards in 2009 and 2010.
"This is outrageous behavior," Shaw said. "These credit card bills are outlandish and unacceptable."
The bulk of the spending was on a card issued to former-Village Manager Jason Ervin, who has since moved up in political class. He's now a Chicago alderman, and he refused to go on camera to explain the charges, or why the village refused to disclose the credit cards in the first place.
Certainly Maywood mayor Henderson Yarbrough is concerned about this, right?
"It doesn't concern me," Yarbrough said. "I really don't even want to talk about it, because I don't know anything about it."
That's right, even the mayor said he had no idea Ervin had a credit card, or that the village is being sued over it. Yarbrough said he hasn’t seen any papers regarding these expenditures.
One of the trips included the mayor and his wife, Illinois Rep. Karen Yarbrough. When asked about the trip, the mayor said he knew "that couldn’t be true."
That's why the "Maywood 4" said they're not letting up.
"I still want to fight for what I think is right," Dorothy said, "and the right thing is to know where my tax dollars are going."
Jason Ervin wouldn't go on camera, but he did say in an email that all of the charges were for official village business, like training, professional development and employee recognition.
He said the trips were all for legitimate reasons, and any travel by spouses was reimbursed.
In a statement Alderman Ervin said, while the Maywood credit card was in his name, it was used by various village officials for government-related work.
He said all those charges for travel by trustee's spouses were reimbursed. FOX Chicago and the BGA asked to see proof of that.
The current village manager said they have records showing some reimbursement, but not all.
It appears—amazingly—that there was never any requirement to fill out expense reports to document how and why the credit cards were being used.
This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations, and Dane Placko, FOX Chicago News. To contact the BGA, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 821-9030.
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