Cook Co. fund mismanagement cost taxpayers $227,871

Published: 6/10/2009 12:00 AM

The past practices of the Cook County Public Administrator's Office cost taxpayers at least $227,871 in missing funds and possibly millions more in sweetheart contracts, a new audit indicates.

The office is supposed to protect the assets of those who die without a will or with an executor who is incapable. But an audit by McGovern & Greene LLP found that before 2003, estate funds were commingled and estates with negative balances were subsidized by others with positive balances.

At least some checks were outright stolen from one estate to the tune of $3,198, and about $3 million was spent on estate services that were questionable, the account found. Some of the companies hired to "manage" estates weren't even incorporated or registered with the state when they were given the contracts, county auditor Laura Burman found.

Nicholas G. Grapsas, the new county public administrator who took over in November, told county board members Tuesday that he has since separated each estate and instituted many of Burman's recommendations for cleaning up the office.

Still, he admitted, county taxpayers had to fork out at least $227,871 to make up for a deficit in the office's fund that had to be repaid to the estates.

The audit has actually been completed for some time, but was withheld while the Cook County state's attorney's office was consulted, which in turn passed it to the Illinois attorney general's office for criminal investigation. That office in turn forwarded the matter to the FBI, which recently determined no criminal charges would be filed, said Grapsas.

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica was livid at the news.

"The statute of limitations ran out (and the county says), 'Sorry, sorry, sorry.' And the problem goes away," he scoffed.

Prior administrators are long gone, and at least one county employee was fired as a result of the investigation, noted Cook County Finance Chairman John Daley.