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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005 03:28 pm

Advocacy Center chief resigns

Records detail questioned travel reimbursements

Jonna Cooley, under investigation for misappropriation of funds, has resigned her post as executive director of the Sangamon County Child Advocacy Center, the agency charged with helping sexually abused children. Though her resignation letter had not been submitted at press time, three sources speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Cooley had decided to step down. Cooley’s former employers — the CAC advisory board, chaired by State’s Attorney John Schmidt — met Oct. 31 and spent more than half an hour in executive session discussing “employee issues,” according to the agenda, before voting to adjourn until Nov. 7. Cooley, who had led the agency since 1995, was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 3 after one of her employees discovered a requisition Cooley submitted seeking reimbursement for a trip five CAC workers took to a national child abuse symposium. The employee became suspicious about the request since no one from CAC actually attended the symposium. Further review of agency records revealed a pattern of questionable reimbursements paid to Cooley. Sheriff’s deputies seized CAC’s financial files last month. Cooley could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Michael Metnick, declined to answer questions. However, a list of CAC requisitions over the past two years obtained by Illinois Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows that Cooley sought and routinely received hundreds of dollars in reimbursement for travel expenses even though her job seldom required her to leave the Springfield area. For example, over the last six months of 2003, Cooley received $1,616.56 for mileage — an average of $270 per month. At the standard reimbursement rate of 37 cents per mile, Cooley would have had to travel an average of 728 miles per month on behalf of the agency. By contrast, other employees’ monthly mileage expenses during the same time ranged from zero to $101.32. Also, in July and October of 2003, Cooley billed the county about $1,300 for lodging at two meetings for Child Advocacy Centers of Illinois, a statewide group of agencies whose common mission is to help abused children. But sources familiar with CACI procedures say CACI’s quarterly regional meetings are held in Springfield, and the annual statewide meeting, usually held in Peoria, provides free hotel rooms. The travel expenses represent only a portion of the questionable expenditures that form the focus of the investigation. Sources say Cooley’s use of the CAC credit card is also being examined.
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