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Thursday, July 5, 2012 03:55 am

Federal auditors visit Jerome

Village financial records scrutinized

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U.S. Department of Justice auditors spent two days in Jerome last week reviewing how the village has handled federal Drug Enforcement Administration grants.

The auditors declined to identify themselves.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” one of the two auditors told a reporter who asked what agency employed him.

However, several sources, including Mayor Harry Stirmell, confirmed that the auditors were in Jerome to examine how the village has handled DEA grants. They arrived at the village on Wednesday morning and were still in village offices when the village board met at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“I talked with them briefly,” Stirmell said. “But I can’t report on anything.”

Stirmell said that the auditors asked that he not disclose the nature of the conversation.

“It’s just a routine audit that they do,” Stirmell said. “They’re traveling auditors. They go everywhere.”

Stirmell said that he didn’t know whether auditors had discovered anything questionable.

“They’re still working,” Stirmell said. “I can’t tell you if they found anything amiss or not.”

Stirmell said he that he could not say how much money the village has received in federal DEA grants.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how much,” Stirmell said.

Stirmell spoke after a brief village board meeting in which the board gave final approval to a revised budget designed to keep a police officer on the payroll who had previously been laid off due to a lack of funds. Stirmell has said that the village has spent more than it has taken in during the past two years and that the deficit spending can’t continue.

Recent board meetings have been crowded with residents asking questions about village finances and demanding that the police department be kept intact. Two Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies stood by during Thursday’s meeting, but decorum prevailed during the session that lasted less than five minutes.

The federal audit of funds received by the village police department comes after Steven Stirmell, the mayor’s son and a former Jerome police officer, was charged two weeks ago with obstruction of justice and official misconduct. Prosecutors with the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office say that the former officer filed a false report on the March arrest of Kathleen Vehovic, a village resident who is the daughter of former Sangamon County Democratic Party chairman Todd Renfrow.

Two weeks after arresting Vehovic on suspicion of driving under the influence, Stirmell submitted a report to the state’s attorney’s office stating that she had put a Listerine tablet in her mouth prior to submitting to a breath test, which showed a blood-alcohol content of more than .15 percent. The legal limit is .08 percent.

A video of Vehovic’s arrest shows that Stirmell asked her whether she had anything in her mouth before he administered the breath test after pulling her over for driving without headlights shortly before midnight. Stirmell also promised to give Vehovic a break prior to administering the test.

“You blow a .10 or below, you go home,” the officer tells Vehovic. “We’ll have somebody come here and pick you up.”

Stirmell in the video shows extraordinary courtesy to a woman who asks the officer what her insurance card looks like and can’t remember that she has given him her driver’s license minutes after handing it over.

Vehovic several times asks if she can call someone to ask whether she should take the breath test, but Stirmell says no. Nonetheless, Vehovic dials her cell phone from the driver’s seat while Stirmell stands next to the open driver’s window. Even in the midst of her first attempt at the breath test – she has to try several times before producing a sufficient volume of air for analysis – Vehovic has someone on her cell phone providing advice.

Vehovic had a broken leg and was using crutches at the time of her arrest. Rather than taking her to jail, Stirmell allowed her to go home.

“I don’t think that it’s fair for you to go to jail, especially with your leg like that,” Stirmell tells her.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

 Click here to see the Videotaped arrest of Kathleen Vehovic.

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