Forest Preserve Probe Blooms, But Not Everyone Feels The Gloom
The FBI has joined an investigation into allegations that DuPage County Forest Preserve District contracts were steered to a Chicago-based technology firm, benefiting two former district employees.
The DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office has been looking into the matter for months, but now officials confirm the federal law enforcement agency’s involvement, the Better Government Association has learned.
Meanwhile, the forest preserve district has given a severance bonus of about $51,000 to former Executive Director Brent Manning who retired June 15 after more than eight years with the district, Manning’s employment contract states he should receive a lump sum totaling four months of salary only if he was terminated "without cause."
But Manning, 59, wasn’t pushed out the door, officials say.
Instead, board members voluntarily gave Manning the bonus, even though the technology contracts in question were awarded on his watch, forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. says.
"Brent deserves part of the blame, as do other employees," he said. "But we still felt he deserved this. It was giving him special recognition for all he had done."
When Manning announced his retirement in May, Pierotti outlined several of the director’s accomplishments, including helping the district maintain a AAA bond rating, maintaining a head count at or below 2003 levels, developing fundraising that resulted in a new foundation to support the forest preserve, and building a new archery area with handicapped-accessible fishing pier at Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville and an Urban Stream Research Center, also in Warrenville.
Altogether, Manning, who was paid $165,000 a year, will have received nearly $74,000 in post-retirement payments when he gets his final check in August. The figure includes the severance pay, plus payments of $11,364 and $11,840 for unused sick and vacation time, according to the district.
Manning acknowledged meeting with the FBI, but declined to divulge any details.
Officials have said Manning doesn’t appear to be a target of the probe, which centers on allegations that two now-former forest preserve district administrators personally benefited from steering contracts to Chicago-based Alamach Technologies Inc.
The Better Government Association and the Daily Herald are not naming the former employees, who worked in the Information Technology department, because they haven’t been charged with a crime. They haven’t worked for the forest preserve since November when one resigned and one was fired, officials say.
Alamach was paid to perform consulting and other technology-related services, according to the district. Between November 2009 and October 2011, records show the forest preserve paid Alamach at least $488,000 for services, according to public records.
Public records show Alamach was dissolved May 4. Attempts to reach the venture’s members were unsuccessful.
The FBI is "part of the investigation," Pierotti said, along with the state’s attorney’s office. A spokeswoman in the FBI’s Chicago office declined to comment, as did a spokesman for DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin.
Manning said heat from the probe didn’t lead him to retire — his reasons included family and health-related issues — though he acknowledges his last year on the job was tumultuous.
"Right now I need some time for recuperation," he said.
He has not yet started to collect a public-sector pension. But when he does, the amount will not be influenced by the severance or other payouts, forest preserve district documents show.
This story was written and reported by BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter and Daily Herald Staff Writer Elizabeth Mistretta. Schroedter can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9035.