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Friday, May 5, 2017 05:12 pm

SoS won't say if agency knew about criminal past

Claims can't talk about personnel issues

The administration of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White won’t say whether the agency knew that Candace Wanzo had pleaded guilty to stealing more than $230,000 from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville before she was hired in 1999.

“This is a personnel matter and we cannot discuss personnel matters,” White spokesman Henry Haupt wrote in an email when asked whether the office was aware that Wanzo had pleaded guilty to stealing from SIU in Edwardsville while employed in the bursar’s office. According to media accounts, Wanzo told a federal judge that she received permission to borrow money from the bursar’s office in 1983, then started stealing funds. She pleaded guilty in 1991 and reportedly spent the money on cars, vacations, clothes and lingerie.

Wanzo was placed on administrative leave this week pending an investigation by the inspector general for the secretary of state. The nature of the investigation isn’t clear. Wanzo could not be reached for comment.

In 2004, the auditor general's office found that Wanzo, who lives in Centralia, had used a state car to commute between her home and her office in Springfield, a distance of 100 miles, according to records in the auditor general's office and a 2004 story published in the Chicago Sun Times. At the time, Wanzo was working in the office as a "private secretary," according to the paper and a report from the auditor general. The commute cost the state $72 per day, according to the auditor general, but just $3 per day was reported to the Internal Revenue Service as taxable wages pursuant to IRS regulations. The secretary of state said that Wanzo stopped at agency facilities while driving to and from work, the auditor general reported, but the purported visits could not be substantiated. 

Don Craven, a Springfield attorney considered an expert on public record laws, said that there is no legal prohibition that would prevent a public body from saying whether it was aware of an employee’s criminal history at time of hiring. Furthermore, personnel files are public records under the state Freedom of Information Act, which limits the ability of government to claim that information about employees can be withheld on the basis of privacy concerns.

“The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy,” the law states.

Illinois Times has filed a written request for records pertaining to Wanzo. Via email, Haupt said questions about whether the secretary of state knew about Wanzo's criminal past might be answered when the agency responds to the records request.

"Our FOIA officer will respond accordingly to that request which would encompass information about the hiring of Ms. Wanzo and, potentially, the information you seek," Haupt wrote. "Therefore, we are not denying your request at this time, we just feel it should be handled by our FOIA officer."

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

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