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Friday, May 9, 2014 05:02 pm

Feds probe former Chatham schools head

Subpoena issued

The U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield has subpoenaed the Ball-Chatham School District for records involving former superintendent Robert Gillum.

Gillum last year agreed to repay the district $16,100 in questionable reimbursements for a variety of expenses and also forgo district-paid health insurance for himself and his wife. When Gillum retired in 2012, the district had agreed to pay for health insurance for Gillum and his wife until 2022.

The U.S. attorney’s office subpoenaed “any and all records relating to the employment of Robert Gillum” in the spring of last year, after the district commissioned an audit that found several instances of questionable spending and alleged conflicts of interest by the former superintendent.

The status of the U.S. attorney’s probe isn’t clear. Eric Long, an assistant U.S. attorney who issued the subpoena, could not be reached for comment, and federal prosecutors typically will not talk about pending investigations. Attorneys for Gillum also could not be reached for comment.

Gillum and the district reached a settlement last year after attorneys for the district sent a draft lawsuit against the former superintendent demanding that he repay questionable expenses and also refund salary paid while he was working for the district while he also held, unbeknownst to the district, positions with businesses that held contracts with the district.

The draft lawsuit made public after a group of concerned parents and taxpayers sued the district under the state Freedom of Information Act states that the school board became concerned shortly after Gillum retired in May, 2012. Gillum’s salary zoomed from nearly $189,000 when he was hired in 2007 to almost $270,000 when he retired.

According to the draft lawsuit, Gillum engaged in financial impropriety almost from the start, collecting more than $11,000 for moving expenses in the summer of 2007 for items that were never moved. He charged more than $4,000 to a district credit card for travel expenses to conferences while also receiving reimbursement for those expenses from conference organizers, but never forwarded the reimbursements to the district, according to the draft lawsuit that was never filed in court. He also used his district credit cart to buy more than $320 in Christmas gifts to school board members, according to the draft lawsuit, and he improperly used the card to buy meals and alcohol for himself and others. He also failed to fully reimburse the district for airfare, meals and other travel expenses for his wife, who had accompanied him to some conferences, according to the draft lawsuit.

All told, the district paid Gillum almost $30,000 for expenses to which he was not entitled, according to the draft lawsuit. It’s not clear why the board settled the matter for $16,100 and cessation of health-insurance coverage. Citing confidentiality provisions in the 2013 settlement that also bars district officials from “disparaging” Gillum, district officials have declined comment on the case.

In addition to questionable reimbursements, Gillum “served in an advisory capacity” to Ameresco at about the same time he recommended that the school board hire the company to perform more than $2.2 million in energy conservation work at district facilities, according to the lawsuit. Similarly, Gillum served on an advisory board to Ittner Architects, a company that was paid more than $1.2 million for architectural services by the district, according to the draft lawsuit. Such conduct constituted a breach of fiduciary duty, according to the draft document, which called for Gillum to forfeit any pay he received during any time that he was in breach of fiduciary duties to the school board.

Until a group of parents and concerned citizens called Better Chatham Schools sued under the state Freedom of Information Act, the district had refused to release the draft lawsuit or the underlying audit. Better Chatham Schools also sued last year under the Open Meetings Act, and the district subsequently admitted that the school board hadn’t provided sufficient information about the settlement. Information was limited to a prepared statement: “The Board of Education of the Ball-Chatham Community Unit School District No. 5 and Robert Gillum, the retired superintendent of the school district, have reached an agreement as to disputes that have arisen between the parties. This agreement resolves all matters between the board and Mr. Gillum.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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