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Thursday, May 11, 2017 12:01 am

SoS employee tried ducking restitution

On unpaid leave, charges unclear

This story has been updated to include information from Southern Illinois University on how much restitution has been paid to date.

Allegations remain unclear against Candace Wanzo, a top official in the Secretary of State’s office who was placed on administrative leave more than a week ago.

Spokesmen for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White will say little more than Wanzo is on administrative leave pending an investigation by the inspector general’s office for the secretary of state. Wanzo was hired as a secretary in 1999, the same year that White became secretary of state. She works in the agency’s vehicle division and was paid $87,238 last year.

Wanzo was hired despite having pleaded guilty to stealing more than $233,000 from Southern Illinois University in 1991 while working as an assistant vault cashier in the bursar’s office. She was sentenced to three years probation in 1992 and ordered to pay the money back in monthly installments not to exceed 25 percent of her net income. She still owes nearly $144,300, according to Robert Vanzo, Freedom of Information Act officer for Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and she has been paying $416 per month. That's less than 6 percent of her salary, and the monthly restitution payments haven't changed since 2004, even though Wanzo's salary has ballooned through the years.

Wanzo has twice declared bankruptcy, first in 1993 and again in 2004, reportedly in efforts to erase the debt. Documents from the 1993 bankruptcy case have been archived and are not readily available. Between 1992 and 1999, Wanzo paid $4,125 toward satisfying the $233,000 restitution order, according to filings in her 2004 bankruptcy case. In 2004, “when Ms. Wanzo was discovered to once again be an employee of the state of Illinois,” the comptroller’s office began withholding 25 percent of her take-home pay to satisfy the restitution order, according to documents filed by an SIU attorney in the 2004 bankruptcy case. One month after the state started withholding $832 per month to satisfy the restitution order, Wanzo contacted SIU and said that she couldn’t afford to pay that much. She also argued that her obligation had been erased when she filed for bankruptcy in 1993, according to filings from SIU in the 2004 bankruptcy case. The university agreed to accept $416 per month, half of what was being withheld. At that rate, and assuming no interest charges, it would have taken Wanzo 47 years to pay her debt. Three months after SIU agreed to the lower payment, Wanzo declared bankruptcy, seeking to wipe out much of her debt.

The university objected, saying that Wanzo’s proposed payment plan to emerge from bankruptcy would have made other creditors whole while leaving 72 percent of the restitution order unpaid. The university also argued that restitution orders can’t be wiped out via bankruptcy. Under an amended plan approved by the bankruptcy court, the $416 monthly garnishment continued while an additional $1,100 per month was deducted from Wanzo’s pay to divide equally among creditors. Between the garnishment and the monthly deduction that was divided between creditors, Wanzo paid more than $44,000 to SIU over the life of the court-approved payment plan, which terminated in 2009, according to court records. That still left her owing nearly $190,000 to the university, which would take 38 years to pay, assuming no interest, according to documents filed in the bankruptcy case.

A spokesman for the secretary of state has refused to say whether the Secretary of State’s office was aware of Wanzo’s criminal past when she was hired. Megan Wanzo, Candace Wanzo’s daughter, has also been on the secretary of state’s payroll as a part-time worker since at least 2015, according to records in the comptroller’s office. She was listed as a “student worker” in 2015, when she earned $3,334. She earned $5,334 last year as a contractual worker at the rate of $14 an hour and has earned nearly $5,700 this year at the same rate of pay. According to comptroller records, she works in the agency’s vehicle services division, the same section of the agency that employs her mother.

Henry Haupt, spokesman for the secretary of state, declined to specify Megan Wanzo’s job duties, saying that the agency’s Freedom of Information Act officer will address the question in response to a written request.

Contact Bruce Rushton at  brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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