A Cook County watchdog report found that well-connected members of a taxpayer-funded mosquito control district were engaging in an alleged hiring scheme that constituted a clear conflict of interest.
The Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General’s report, dated January 14, concluded that all members of the South Cook County Mosquito Control District Board of Directors should not have their appointments renewed. and should be asked to “explore their voluntary resignation”. in the interests of the neighborhood.
The Independent Inspector General also called for the resignation of Janet Rogers, who is central to the alleged hiring plan.
Rogers was pardoned by former Governor Pat Quinn in 2013 after being convicted of theft and state benefit fraud nearly a decade earlier. Prior to this, Secret Service agents raided her home in Harvey 2000 as part of a forgery investigation, although she was never charged.
His name, like the other accused of wrongdoing, was not included in the report, but the Sun-Times was able to confirm their identity.
The trustees were all appointed by Cook County Council Chairman Toni Preckwinkle with the advice and consent of Cook County Council.
Recommendations are rare for the office of Inspector General Patrick Blanchard.
In an interview, Blanchard said he would have recommended Preckwinkle remove them from their positions, but she does not have the authority to oust them because the Mosquito Control District is an independent body funded by a dedicated tax.
“While there is no statutory mechanism for the office of the president to terminate a serving director, President Preckwinkle will not seek reappointment of the members in question,” a Preckwinkle spokesperson said.
In a letter to the directors, Preckwinkle advised the directors to “take immediate corrective action to remedy the [inspector general’s] results.”
Investigators also found that the district failed to do its most basic job. According to the report, he failed to conduct adequate mosquito surveillance, spent enough on insecticides, and failed to cooperate with the Illinois Department of Public Health. The report urged the district to strengthen public reporting, coordinate with other mosquito control districts, and cooperate with state officials.
The South Cook County District covers 340 square miles and is the largest of the county’s four mosquito control districts. The South Cook County District’s mission is to monitor and reduce mosquitoes and other biting insects south of 87th Street. Its operating budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year is $4.5 million.
Appointments, hires, promotions
During two board meetings in February 2017, trustee Charles Givines, a former Harvey city councilman, offered to consider hiring Rogers, who sits on the board of trustees at South Suburban College in South Holland and is the chairman of the Harvey School District 152 board of trustees. There were no seconds to his motions at either meeting, the report said.
Lynette Stokes, who at the time was vice-president of South Suburban College, then showed up for three board meetings that year before being named trustee in November 2017, according to the report. She was sworn in the following month.
Three days after Stokes was installed, the board held a special meeting and approved a resolution to hire Rogers to a public relations position with a $42,000 salary and “full benefits,” according to the report. Stokes, Givines and another administrator approved the resolution.
Givines and Stokes ultimately “experienced positive employment developments at the hands of the boards,” on which Rogers served, according to the report.
Givines, who also sits on the Dolton West School District 148 board of trustees, was hired as the Harvey School District’s custodial support consultant, and Rogers voted to approve the appointment in November 2017, says The report.
Rogers’ husband, Harvey Ald. Tyrone Rogers, also served on the school board at the time and introduced the motion, according to the report. He is facing trial in Cook County on charges of sexual abuse and sexual assault stemming from an alleged attack at Harvey’s town hall.
When Janet Rogers was convicted in 2004 of falsifying her income to get better financial aid for her son’s college education, she was sentenced to 180 days in jail, fined $7,000 and ordered to repay more than $10,000 to state and federal governments. She also voluntarily resigned from the same school board.
Then in 2011, Janet Rogers was re-elected to the school board and later named chair. It drew the ire of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office prosecuted Janet Rogers and then asked a judge in 2013 to remove her from the board for “illegally occupying and executing the office of a member of the board of directors”.
Before the judge could make a decision, Quinn granted him clemency and expunged his felony convictions.
In an interview with investigators, Janet Rogers confirmed that she also voted to approve Stokes’ appointment as president of South Suburban College in April 2018, according to the report. The promotion to vice president of academic services increased Stokes’ annual salary from $134,629 to $194,021.
Prior to her appointment to the District Mosquito Control Council, Stokes submitted an affidavit to county officials denying that she had any conflicts of interest that would prevent her from “adequately representing the interests” of the council. She also said she would report any changes, according to the report.
Given the circumstances, investigators concluded that the actions of Givines and Janet Rogers presented a conflict of interest and a breach of fiduciary duty, the report said. Stokes’ “dereliction of duty” was “exacerbated” by his sworn statements in the affidavit.
Reached by phone, Givines said he did not review the report’s findings before criticizing the “nameless and faceless people” who wrote it and offering a full defense of the council’s work.
“We’re an independent organization, and we haven’t done anything wrong but mind our own business,” Givines said, adding, “You never give black people a break. You want to write all these bad things about us Go out and watch, then write.
Janet Rogers and Stokes, who also said she had not read the report, referred the Sun-Times to Joe Miller, a board-appointed attorney who challenged the report’s findings during a interview. Miller said he intended to respond within the 45-day deadline allotted by county officials, insisting there was no sneaky scheme at play that constituted a conflict of interest.
“The idea that there was this hiring program is incorrect. It’s wrong. It’s just not true,” Miller said, saying the timing of some appointments was “off” and noting that Stokes was chosen by the county council.
“There are actually a lot of things that I think are incorrect in the way they put it in the report,” he added, pointing to the vehicle sales section, as well as some information about other mosquito control districts and the reported qualifications of “specific people.” He gave no clarification to the Sun-Times.
Several people interviewed by investigators also sounded the alarm about the hiring of Janet Rogers, who was first placed in a management position and then installed as operations manager “despite having no training in science or entomology,” according to the report. Her online biography on the South Suburban College website shows that she worked as a culinary arts and special education teacher for three decades.
In an interview, according to the report, Janet Rogers was unable to answer questions about mosquito control operations or the use of insecticides, and she admitted that a biologist and a chemist handled most of the operations.
In contrast, the county’s other three mosquito control district officers had “extensive training or experience in mosquito control” before they were chosen, according to the report. An employee of the Illinois Department of Public Health expressed concern that far more qualified applicants were being overlooked.
“I don’t know what she’s doing there,” the employee allegedly said in the report. “She is not qualified for the job.”
Allowances, vehicle sales
Investigators also questioned a $100 travel allowance board members paid themselves to attend monthly meetings. Between January 2017 and June 2021, those expenses totaled $22,800, according to the report.
Investigators found that these payments were “not supported by records” and were “clearly excessive if they had to reimburse mileage”.
The report also questioned SCCMAD’s practice of selling vehicles at far below their value. Between January 2017 and March 2021, the reduction district sold 15 vehicles to municipalities in the southern suburbs for just $1 each.
The payments and sales were seen as a breach of fiduciary duty, according to the report, which recommended an end to such practices and called on trustees to return any money “wrongly paid to them”.
When asked if he plans to refer any of his findings to law enforcement, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, Blanchard replied, “No comment. .”