According to the Paxton Record, Three former top-ranking officials in the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department used their work computers for “personal use and personal gain” at least 70 percent of the time they were on them, a computer forensic expert revealed Wednesday, adding to the list of questionable conduct by ex-employees of the recently dissolved agency.
“These computers were rarely used, less than 30 percent of the time, for county business. They were used for personal business,” said Andrew R. Garrett of Decatur-based Garrett Discovery Inc.
Garrett delivered a report to the Iroquois County Board on Wednesday morning, detailing the findings of his examination of five computers used by former health department managers who, according to Chairman Rod Copas, resigned “under suspicious circumstances.”
Garrett said he was asked by Copas to examine copies of each computer’s hard drive for Internet usage, emails and deleted and overwritten files that showed “evidence of waste, fraud and abuse.”
Garrett said the computers he examined were those used by Doug Corbett, the agency’s administrator; Julie Clark, the health department’s public information/Freedom of Information Act officer; Cary Hagen, the agency’s financial coordinator; and Mary Cahoe, the home-health care program coordinator.
“Based on the evidence we reviewed, it appears as if Clark, Hagen and Corbett were using the government-owned computers for personal use and gain and possibly illegal and unethical activities,” Garrett wrote in a four-page report he prepared for the board.
Forensic audit’s findings
Garrett said Corbett used his government-owned computer for, among other activities: “inappropriate” Web searches; downloading hundreds of pornography files; paying personal bills and managing his personal life; and “excessive” visits to sports-related sites.
Garrett said that Clark used her computer to, among other activities: organize church functions; recruit staff for a church; manage a Kiwanis Club (there were more than 1,000 emails and Web hits related to this type of work); fundraise and campaign for the re-election campaign of the mayor of Maryville, where she lived; plan wedding and baby showers for multiple people in the St. Louis area, including booking hotels, sending invitations, and shopping for dresses and photography services; and to send emails to change the health department’s procurement policies to enable her and her husband to bid on a health department contract.
Both Clark and Corbett also used their computers to create a nonprofit foundation using health department funds, Garrett said, and to loan money to a private business, with a promissory note to the county, without communicating that to the board of health.
Garrett said Hagen used her computer to do 3,011 searches for classified ads on websites such as eBay, Amazon and Craigslist; 1,465 searches on dating sites; 7,688 Facebook posts and comments; and more than 10,000 Web searches for keywords such as “cars,” “makeup,” “apartments,” “sports,” “Disney” and “clothes.” Hagen also used a county credit card to buy gifts for others immediately prior to the Christmas holiday, Garrett said.
Meanwhile, Garrett said that Cahoe used her computer to establish a home-health business in Indiana using health department funds. In one email, Cahoe noted that the proposed home-health branch in Indiana “can stay independent of (the) health department,” Garrett said. The home-health branch proposal was later nixed after the legality of spending local tax dollars to offer services in another state was questioned by Copas and Iroquois County State’s Attorney Jim Devine.
More questionable actions
Garrett’s forensic audit, which he said was completed at no cost to the county, was the second forensic audit done on the health department in the past year.
The board of health last year paid $50,000 to have a forensic audit done of the agency’s finances for fiscal year 2012, and among the findings were the violation of bid procurement rules, the misuse of grant money, inaccurate budgeting and the revision of policies by management without the board’s approval.
In reviewing some of the information uncovered, Copas read a list of “confirmed transactions” made on health department computers that showed purchases were made at places like Dick’s Sporting Goods, J.C. Penney, Dress Barn, Victoria’s Secret, Finishline, Pampered Chef, Liquor Mania, and Bath & Bodyworks. The transactions were not made using health department credit cards, but they were made on health department time and equipment, Copas noted.
Copas then read an email that Julie Clark sent to her husband, Stan, prior to Stan’s company being awarded a $124,000 contract to install solar panels on the health department’s offices in Paxton and Watseka. In the email, Julie Clark tells her husband that she is working to get the health department’s bid procurement policy changed so that his company could get the contract without having to bid on it.
According to Copas, Julie Clark’s email said: “Yes, Cary (Hagen) and I discussed this earlier this morning. We are going to change the policy to read so we do not have to get sealed bids.”
Copas said he feels the actions uncovered constitute a charge of official misconduct, a Class 3 felony. Copas urged Devine to prosecute those employees who “robbed” taxpayers by using public assets for private gain.
The evidence of wrongdoing, Copas said, is “overwhelming,” yet no one has been held accountable.
“If you think this is acceptable, OK. I don’t,” Copas said. “I wish I could put into words my disgust of what I have seen in the lack of prosecution for blatant criminal acts that have cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It seems, justice is for some, but not for others. It depends on who you are, what you have and who you know.”
Barb Offill of Gilman, the coordinator of the Iroquois County tea party, joined Copas in asking Devine to take action.
“We don’t want it just forgotten. We want something done,” Offill said.
Kirk Allen of Kansas, Ill., who co-owns the Edgar County Watchdogs website, said that if Devine declines to prosecute, the county board should stand united in asking him to.
“This county board needs to stand up for justice and bring this matter to a vote ... to bring these criminal acts to the state’s attorney for him to prosecute,” Allen said. “Staying silent on this matter indicates to the people you support these criminals and confirms there is no justice for all. We, the people, deserve justice when people steal from us — whether in the public sector or the private sector. Set a positive example for others to follow and hold these criminals accountable.”
Devine said after the meeting that he would be willing to review the latest forensic audit report to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Devine said, however, that he had yet to receive it.
Strict policies urged
To avoid these issues in the future, Garrett recommended that the Iroquois County Board — which now oversees a public health department independent of Ford County — immediately adopt a policy for Internet, computer and equipment usage by employees, with violations of such a policy warranting immediate termination.
Garrett also suggested that a forensic auditor be assigned to conduct a forensic examination of employees’ computers two or more times a year to ensure the policy is being adhered to.
Copas called adopting such a policy a “no-brainer” to “ensure that this conduct never happens again.”
Calls not returned
Julie Clark did not immediately return messages left on her cell phone seeking comment Wednesday, while Cary Hagen did not immediately return a message left with her brother, Iroquois County Sheriff Derek Hagen. Meanwhile, attempts to reach Cahoe at her workplace were unsuccessful, and Corbett had no listed telephone number and could not be reached.