Burnham is a small, somewhat sleepy south suburb adjacent to Calumet City and Dolton, straddling the border with Indiana.
But last week brought an unusual level of excitement and intrigue to the community of roughly 4,500 residents.
FBI agents raided Burnham’s Village Hall on Wednesday as part of what an FBI spokeswoman described as an "on-going investigation."
Also in recent days, the long-time village clerk, Nancy Dobrowski, resigned, according to Burnham Mayor Robert Polk.
It’s unknown whether the FBI probe was related to Dobrowski’s sudden resignation. But the elected official had been the center of a financial storm as of late – one the Better Government Association independently investigated for several months.
Since the beginning of the year, a number of Burnham municipal employees expressed concern to the BGA that taxpayer money might be missing. Their concern was rooted in irregularities that began to sprout up on pay stubs and pension statements.
Money that was supposed to be in retirement accounts wasn’t there – at least as reflected on statements. Some paychecks were arriving months late, and automatic payments set up through the village were also taking months to go through.
One worker once got two pay stubs for the same pay period, each showing different amounts. Union dues were deducted on one, but not the other. Another employee said he fell behind in child support payments, even though the money had been taken out of his checks. And as the wife of one Burnham municipal worker found out, insurance premiums weren’t always being paid to the insurance carrier.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BGA how she ended up in the emergency room only to find her health insurance had been canceled due to lack of payment – though premiums were supposed to be automatically deducted from her husband’s check and forwarded to the insurer.
|Former Burnham Village Clerk Nancy Dobrowski|
She also said the family fell several months behind in house payments because automatic mortgage deductions – set up through the village – were not being handled correctly.
In past BGA interviews, Dobrowski, who helped oversee municipal finances, confirmed those troubles existed, but described them as "glitches" and, in the case of the insurance cancellation, blamed the carrier. She insisted no money was missing.
Dobrowski had been clerk for more than 30 years, and just won re-election earlier this year. The exact date of her resignation wasn’t clear, but she apparently quit in the middle of last week. She was in attendance at last Tuesday’s village board meeting, according to one village trustee who did not want to be quoted by name.
Reached on the phone by the BGA Thursday, Dobrowski refused to answer questions and hung up. She did not return subsequent calls.
The FBI would not reveal details about the raid on Village Hall, other than to say a search warrant was executed and nobody has been arrested or charged.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Katie Drews. She can be reached at (312) 821-9027, or firstname.lastname@example.org.