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Madison County treasurer referred for investigation, calls charges political

By   /  June 23, 2014  /  1 Comment

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It is still not clear what Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler hoped to accomplish when he held a press conference in front of the St. Clair County Administration building on May 30.

The back of one page of the 2014 Madison County tax bill / photo by Roger Starkey

The back of one page of the 2014 Madison County tax bill / photo by Roger Starkey

Prenzler presented results of an analysis that at least two of his staff members helped compile while working in the Madison County Treasurer’s office. The analysis presented findings of what Prenzler called four “patterns” of similarities between former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon and St. Clair Count Treasurer Charles Suarez. Bathon began serving prison time in January after pleading guilty to allowing three campaign contributors to buy delinquent taxes without competition.

Despite the presentation of materials to document the “patterns,” Prenzler has refused to call the compilation of information an investigation. Despite presenting what Prenzler believed were strong correlations between the behavior of Bathon and Suarez, Prenzler would not say Suarez had committed a crime.

On Prenzler’s official Facebook page, a post from May 30 at least strongly hints that a crime occurred.

“…and there is no joy in telling the St. Clair public that in 2006 and 2007 your tax sale was highly questionable,” the post read

A copy of the documentation distributed to the press on May 30 was delivered to United States Attorney for the Southern District Steve Wigginton on the same day, Prenzler said. Asked if Wigginton was the correct investigative authority, Prenzler replied that he was not sure, but, Wigginton was the person handling the Bathon prosecution.

Despite calling a press conference before notifying authorities of any potential wrongdoing by his St. Clair County counterpart, and hosting the press conference in a neighboring county – in an election year – Prenzler said his motives were not political. The analysis was part of his duties as treasurer Prenzler said. When asked what he learned from the analysis that helped him improve his office, Prenzler declined comment.

The exact purpose of Prenzler’s press conference and analysis performed leading up the conference may not be clear, but it is a safe bet that the intent was not to have a complaint filed against him for ethics violations, which was the result.

Jack Daugherty, of Edwardsville, filed a complaint with Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons on June 3 accusing Prenzler of multiple ethical violations, including conducting investigations on County compensated time.

Prenzler told The Metro Independent on June 3 that work done by an employee in his office to assist with the analysis of St. Clair County tax sale’s records was completed on personal time. When told evidence suggested the work was done during regular business hours, Prenzler responded in email on June 4 to say one staffer had provided minimal assistance.

“I consider an analysis of tax sales of neighboring counties to be within my duties and responsibilities as treasurer,” Prenzler said. “Sam Borders used his computer to burn several CDs pertaining to tax sales statistics.”

Records from the compact discs distributed to the media appear to show that Borders not only copied files to the discs, but also modified and printed documents. Chief Deputy Treasurer, Doug Hulme also appears to have modified documents on May 29. Hulme attended the press conference on May 30 at 1 p.m., also.

(See previous story, “Prenzler used taxpayer money to investigate fellow treasurer, says part of duties”)

Requests to change payroll records

Daugherty also filed a Freedom of Information Act request on June 3 asking for payroll records of Prenzler’s staff. On June 5, the day after The Metro Independent article was published in which Prenzler acknowledged Borders used his work computer, a request was made from Prenzler’s office to the payroll department to amend Borders’ hours worked for May 30 to include one hour of personal time.

Prenzler said it was normal that his office submits requests to change payroll records.

A request was made on June 3 to modify Hulme’s work record to show that he took two hours of personal time on May 29 and two hours on May 30. The May 29 change was unnecessary because he had already coded his time appropriately, email communications between the treasurer’s office and the payroll department, and obtained by The Metro Independent, show.

The June 5 email to payroll includes a request to change three hours to personal time for Hulme on May 16, the day he and Prenzler campaigned at the “Save our Jobs Rally” hosted by U.S. Steel in Granite City.

Complaints forwarded for investigation

Daugherty’s complaint included several accusations against Prenzler.

Prenzler acknowledged, Daugherty said, that he is actively conducting two personnel investigations of Madison County employees. Daugherty said Prenzler preparing and circulating a petition for the referendum against issuing bonds to pay for Madison County Jail improvements was in violation of the county’s ethics ordinance.

Daugherty also took exception to the back of one page of the 2014 Madison County tax bill. The page shows a comparison of tax sale rates under Bathon and Prenzler, as well as a note from Prenzler indicating he had achieved $1.5 million in savings during his term.

“(It) contains blatantly political communications that can only be construed as campaign literature,” Daugherty indicated in the complaint.

As the Madison County State’s Attorney, Gibbons is an attorney for Prenzler as the Madison County Treasurer, representing a potential conflict of interest. Therefore, Gibbons referred the matter to the Madison County Ethics Advisor and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.  Additionally, per office precedent, the United States Attorney’s Office received a copy.

“It is absolutely necessary that any allegation of unethical or unlawful conduct against a County Official be reviewed independently by an agency with the lawful authority to review or investigate so that there is no appearance of a conflict of interest, politics or favoritism,” Gibbons said in a statement. “It is for this reason that I have referred the matter on for review.”

Madison County Ethics Advisor Leo Konzen declined to say if he had received the complaint. If he did receive a complaint, he said, he would respond directly to Gibbons and not to Prenzler.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Lisa Madigan confirmed that the documentation with the complaints had been received, but could not comment further.

Jim Porter, spokesman for the United States Attorney’s office, said the complaints were forwarded to the FBI, which conducts official misconduct and corruption investigations. Brad Ware, media representative for the FBI’s Springfield office, said he could not comment on the case.

Prenzler, a Republican, called the potential investigations of his activities a political issue.

“As far as I’m concerned this is a dead issue until we hear back from Lisa Madigan’s office,” Prenzler said. “This is all politics.”

Daugherty, who is a Madison County Democratic committeeman, said there is a political dimension to the complaint, but there are also criminal and misconduct dimension.

“I guess it politics in that good governance is part of politics,” Daugherty said. “From my standpoint, he is openly using his office to further his own campaign.”

Daugherty said it was important to point out that Prenzler said the accusations against the St. Clair County treasurer were not political, but complaints against him are political.

“If you are prepared to make accusations, you should be prepared to answer to them,” Daugherty said.

The original documents from Prenzler

Porter said that, if Prenzler had contacted the United States Attorney’s office, he would have been advised to take the St. Clair County tax sales documentation to the proper investigating authority.

“When he dropped information off at this office, we didn’t even open it,” Porter said. “We forward it to the FBI.”

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1 Comment

  1. Kelly says:

    Thank you, Metro Independent, for reporting on this issue when other news outlets avoid it for fear of backlash from Prenzler’s fan base. Thank you for having the integrity to report on this.

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