Mayor Perkins during an event earlier this year. Perkins was the subject of a Cook County Sheriff’s Department investigation involving misuse of funds, among other complaints. She has insisted that the department’s findings aren’t true. | File
Wednesday, January 6, 2015 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 1/8/15
A December 2015 report by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department Community Inspector General (CIG) Unit claims that Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins engaged in multiple violations of village ordinances and policies — most related to her alleged practice of bypassing the village’s formal purchasing policy.
The report also addresses the implication of Perkins’s administrative assistant, Jonette Greenhow, in a recent village water bill fraud scheme that led to the forced resignation of four village employees.
The report is the result of an investigation launched last February into eight anonymously filed complaints regarding various allegations of misconduct by Perkins. Several of those complaints the CIG found to be baseless, but others were substantiated and followed by recommendations to the board of trustees.
Perkins allegedly hired more students than was necessary during a summer youth employment program made possible by an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Youth Program Grant. She also allegedly allowed one person to be hired to work in the program who had not passed a background investigation.
The CIG declined to investigate this complaint, since it had already addressed the issue after a previous complaint into the IDNR summer program had been filed.
Perkins was also alleged to have used village funds for her personal use when she bought flowers for the funeral service of a relative and when she purchased tickets to a Martin Luther King breakfast, which the mayor attended with some associates.
The CIG found that the mayor violated village ordinance and policy with both purchases, but noted that she later reimbursed the village.
The CIG noted that Perkins often “purchased office supplies and other items with her personal credit card and submitted paperwork to the village for reimbursement” — a practice it found in violation of village ordinance and rules.
The CIG noted that the mayor’s practice of reimbursing the village skirts the village’s existing process for ordering supplies and is unnecessary, since there is already a line item in the budget for supplies.
The CIG noted that the “money to reimburse Mayor Perkins [sic] credit card purchases came from either the general fund or from petty cash, depending on the size of the purchase.” But many of those purchases, CIG found, were Xeroxed receipts or submitted without physical paper receipts.
From June 2014 to January 2015, the CIG claimed, the mayor submitted more than $4,500 for reimbursement, with around $1,600 of total reimbursement requests submitted with either Xeroxed receipts or without physical paper receipts — a practice the CIG found in violation of village policy.
Although the CIG did not explicitly claim whether or not it found the mayor in violation of section 36.06 of village ordinance — which requires public funds, property or credit to be used “only for public purposes” — it’s investigation fleshed out a July 2014 payment in the amount of $695 for Trustee Isiah Brandon to attend a boot camp, held from July 9 to July 11, for nonprofit CEO’s at North Park College’s Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. Brandon wasn’t a village trustee or employee at the time.
“Brandon asked Mayor Perkins if the village would pay $695.00 for the program,” the CIG notes. “Mayor Perkins agreed to sponsor Brandon and he subsequently turned all of the information regarding the boot camp over to Mayor Perkins [sic] assistant, Jonetta Greenhow [sic].”
The CIG notes that the village board approved the training, but the payment’s line item did not list Brandon as the recipient of the training. The line item read, “North Park University, Perkins – Training, General Fund / President & Trustees, 695.00.”
According to the CIG, the village’s finance department thought the check request form was for tuition for Perkins, since Brandon’s name wasn’t listed on any documentation submitted to the department or the village board.
Finance department officials told the CIG that they learned that Brandon was the recipient of the training after the village received a letter from North Park University stating that Maywood was eligible for a $200 refund, since the nonprofit Brandon headed at the time, Youth On The Move, had an annual budget of less than $10,000.
“If the Village [sic] had not received the reimbursement, there would have been no record of Brandon attending training, paid for by the Village of Maywood,” the CIG noted.
Another complaint alleged that Perkins allowed Brandon, along with Dempsey Staffing, to operate out of her official village office. Dempsey Staffing is owned by Princess Dempsey, who supported Perkins during the mayor’s 2013 bid for election. The village contracted with Dempsey’s firm to provide temporary staffers to fill in for Greenhow when she was absent or overworked.
The CIG found that the mayor wasn’t in violation of village policy or ordinance, or any state statutes as it related to Dempsey’s firm and Brandon’s nonprofit.
Dempsey, however, was angry that the allegations were brought up at all and criticized certain board members for making her firm a political target. In December 2014, the village board voted to discontinue contracting with Dempsey Staffing.
“The language of the trustees is totally a lie,” Dempsey said. “We never had an office here. We supplied a secretary for the mayor’s office. But because they’ve made those false allegations, my company is hurting and Maywood residents are hurting because we’re having a problem with hiring residents from here now. So, their own residents are hurting, because of the political agenda that the trustees have played. It is hurting the citizens.”
Another allegation, claiming that the mayor refused to comply with a trustee board vote to “have her move her office from the police station to the municipal building,” was found by CIG to be baseless, since the move was the responsibility of the David Myers, the village’s assistant village manager who at the time was acting village manager.
Myers told board members that there was no space at the municipal building, 40 Madison, that would adequately accommodate the mayor’s office. Myers told the CIG that when hat office space becomes available, then the move would happen.
Perhaps the most serious complaint was the one connected to Greenhow, the mayor’s executive assistant, who was allegedly retained by the mayor after it was discovered that the assistant was “implicated in a village water bill fraud scheme.”
“Through the investigation, CIG learned that the law firm of Gould and Pakter Associates, LLC., audited the village water department and discovered fraudulent billing practices, wherein some homeowners were overcharged for their water utility bill,” the CIG noted.
The overcharges were then credited to the bills of certain village residents and employees, “thereby, reducing those subjects’ water bills.” The law firm’s audit found that Larrain Waller, Maria Pagan, Robert Jay and Steve Slaughter received “multiple fraudulent payments to their water bills.”
Between November 2012 and May 2013, Lula Greenhow, Jonette Greenhow’s mother, received more than $3,000 in payments that were obtained through the water department fraud, CIG found.
After discovering this, Myers decided to start termination procedures for the four employees, but not for Greenhow, who told Myers and village attorney Michael Jurusik during an interview that she didn’t live with her mother and didn’t know her mother received the payments.
Greenhow, however, told CIG investigators that she did live with her mother during the time of the payments and that she found out about the water bill fraud investigation from village officials. She also told CIG investigators that she would occasionally lunch with Waller, who she considered to be a “casual friend.” Greenhow also told investigators that she and Waller never discussed her mother’s water bill and that she had no knowledge of the water bill fraud.
“The CIG investigators asked the acting village manager [David Myers] if he investigated Ms. Greenhow’s actual residential location and he stated that they did not investigate Greenhow’s actual residence but relied on her interview to determine she did not live with her mother,” the CIG report noted, adding that Myers told CIG investigators that the mayor “never intervened on Greenhow’s behalf regarding the audit investigation of her employment.”
CIG investigators found, through “numerous official documents,” that Greenhow did live with her mother at the time of the payments.
The CIG made a number of recommendations in response to what it considered were ordinance and policy violations on the part of the mayor, but those were mostly non-binding, with some simply reiterating the language in existing village ordinances.
But with respect to Greenhow, although it did not directly recommend that she be disciplined, the CIG nonetheless broached the possibility. The CIG noted that the village’s position “was that there was insufficient indisputable proof to link her to the fraudulent activity.”
However, the CIG’s recommendation seemed to imply that, based on its finding that Greenhow did live with her mother at the time of the payments, the way may be somewhat cleared for disciplinary action.
“If the Village [sic] seeks to re-examine Greenhow’s employment and Greenhow is protected by a collective bargaining agreement, the Village [sic] is obligated to proceed according to the terms and conditions of that agreement. However, if Greenhow is an ‘at will’ employee, the Village’s personnel manual states that an ‘at will’ employee can be disciplined or discharged with or without cause and with or without notice.”
At the Jan. 5 board meeting, Perkins pointed out that an election is coming up before asking board members when she’d be able to rebut the CIG’s accusations. Several board members noted that the opportunity was open anytime.
“I do have information about these accusations and I’m innocent until proven guilty,” Perkins said. “I’m not guilty of the stuff I’ve been accused of.”
After the CIG’s report was read in full by Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., the board voted for the report to be sent to the next full board meeting in order for members to decide whether or not the document should be forwarded to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s and Attorney General’s offices. Mayor Perkins was the lone dissenting vote. VFP
This article has been updated to reflect that the board meeting at which the CIG report was read was Jan. 5, not Dec. 5. VFP regrets this error.
To read the report in full, click the image below: