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Perry County Sheriff’s Department
Citing budget cuts, Perry County sheriff announces deputy layoffs

PINCKNEYVILLE — In what was described as a “heart-wrenching” decision, Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis announced Tuesday that his office has had to lay off several employees and will be looking to further restructure the department in the future as a result of budget cuts.

Bareis said in a Tuesday news release that because of a “perfect storm” of setbacks at the county level, he had to lay off all three part-time deputies as well as give options to two full-time deputies to either take a layoff or be reassigned to a part-time position within the jail. He said another full-time deputy was also given the option to be reassigned to the jail through seniority.

The staffing restructure will take a force that was once 12 officers, including the sheriff and two investigators, to 10, including two investigators and the sheriff — Bareis said this would leave seven patrolmen.

The county in August began its regular budgeting process, and County Clerk Josh Gross said county officials realized they were at a shortfall of about $550,000. He attributed this in part to a rising cost of services and salaries as well as insurance costs. The deficit ballooned during years of delayed funding from the state as a result of the budget impasse that ended this year, Gross said.

Bareis said one of the biggest hurdles his office has hit in terms of money has been the state’s decision to have the county pay for inmate healthcare as opposed to allowing inmates to keep Medicaid.

“Citizens are awaiting trial, but they are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers ... but right now the State of Illinois doesn’t see it that way for these locally-incurred medical costs,” Bareis wrote in his news release.

“A number of people awaiting trial that cannot make bond are incarcerated and they automatically have their Medicaid cards revoked and the Sheriff’s (Office), (and) thus the county taxpayer,s are on the hook for poor decisions from Springfield and Washington, D.C.,” the release states.

Gross said the county has also lost revenue from local sales tax.

“As more people shop in the surrounding counties, that hurts us on that front,” he said.

Gross said county officials had to start making hard decisions.

“We went through the process of cutting ... we were able to cut roughly $300,000 of expenses,” he said, adding that the lion's share came from public safety — Bareis said his department makes up about 43 percent of the county’s budget.

The county was able to triage some of the potential damage, though. Bareis said county officials decided to increase the number of federal inmates housed at the Perry County Jail, which brings in $60 per day, per inmate. Gross said that's projected to offset the losses by $225,000.

Gross said county officials plan to have quarterly budget meetings beginning in February. He said one of the two laid-off full-time deputies could go back out on the road in February if the budget stabilizes by then, and the same could happen for the second deputy in May. However, he said the operative word there is “if.”

“There is potential it could get worse,” Gross said. However, he said he doesn’t think that will be the case. His gut says moves made this year will make the budget more stable.

Bareis said he has been on the force in Perry County for about 20 years and has heard rumblings about layoffs since he started.

“This has been something that’s been coming our way down the tracks for years,” he said. When he took office three years ago as sheriff, he said he had no idea he’d have to make such hard decisions.

“I never really thought we would come the place where it had to happen,” he said. “The day of reckoning, I guess, has come.”

He said there is the very real possibility that the cut in staff could mean more overtime, leading to a possible “catch-22,” as Bareis described it — the sheriff's office would spend the money saved by paying overtime for the staff left on the street. But something had to give.

It’s been no easy time for the sheriff's office.

“I had to sit down literally across from them a couple of weeks ago (to explain the situation),” Bareis said.

He officially sent out letters yesterday.

“It’s heartbreaking especially when they are good people,” he said, adding that this coming at the holidays makes it even worse.

“I’ve lost sleep. I’ve not ate. I’ve been torn up more than (just tears),” he said.

“It’s heart-wrenching. I hate it.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to correctly reflect Josh Gross' last name.


Acha
alert top story
Cairo Housing Crisis
HUD files fraud complaint against ex-ACHA officials; in response, former executive director wishes 'everybody a Merry Christmas'

WASHINGTON — Seven months after federal housing officials told 400 people they have to move from their dilapidated public housing complexes in Cairo, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a fraud complaint Tuesday against two former managers of the Alexander County Housing Authority seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties.

The 45-page civil complaint brought by HUD’s Office of Hearings and Appeals against former executive directors James Wilson, of Cairo, and Martha Franklin, of Thebes, alleges the two used federal public housing dollars for travel and gifts and submitted false documentation to HUD.

Against both Wilson and Franklin, HUD seeks 125 civil penalties plus assessments totaling $908,007.38. Additionally, HUD seeks 73 civil penalties and assessments totaling $293,463.70 against Franklin individually, and two civil penalties totaling $15,000 against Wilson individually for, the government alleges, falsifying that the ACHA was in compliance with civil rights laws and HUD’s lead safety requirements.  

Wilson’s response to the matter was brief. “My only comment is, ‘I wish everybody a Merry Christmas,’” he said in a voicemail message, returning The Southern’s call seeking comment on the allegations and fines. He did not answer a subsequent phone call. The Southern has never been successful in contacting Franklin, and her number is not listed.

Jereon Brown, HUD’s general deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, said that it is up to a judge to determine whether the joint penalties and assessments totaling close to $900,000 are split between the two in some manner, or if the total amount is paid by each, should HUD be successful in its case against them.

Wilson and Franklin have 30 days to respond to the complaint, Brown said. Unless the case is settled by agreement of the parties beforehand, the two have the option of appearing before an administrative law judge in Washington or asking for a trial. If a trial is requested on the matter, the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to file the civil complaint in federal court on HUD’s behalf, according to Brown.

Wilson served as executive director of the ACHA from 1989 to April 1, 2013. Franklin served as finance director from 2004 through April 2013, and as executive director from April 2013 to March 2015.

Charges of segregation

Among the allegations made against them in the complaint is that Wilson and Franklin, who are both white, “knowingly continued a practice of segregation and exposed black residents to unfavorable conditions.” The Elmwood and McBride properties HUD has slated for demolition because they are unsafe have almost exclusively housed black families for years, although Alexander County was about 61 percent white during their tenure, according to the complaint. 

The complaint alleges that Wilson and Franklin perpetuated segregation despite an agreement in 1974 with the federal government for the ACHA to integrate. They also were accused of discriminatory employment practices, including paying black workers less than white workers despite giving black workers more challenging assignments.

The complaint also alleges that Wilson failed to comply with HUD’s lead safety requirements by failing to conduct risk assessments, failing to disclose to tenants all known lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards at the properties, among other related failures. The state Department of Children and Family Services lists Cairo as a high-risk region for potential lead poisoning of children. In the past decade, at least five children have tested with dangerously high blood lead levels who live at the complexes, according to records The Southern has obtained from Southern Seven Health Department.

Further, the complaint alleges that Wilson inappropriately entered into a consulting contract after his retirement in 2013 and that Franklin inappropriately approved his payments in violation of the local agency’s Annual Contributions Contract with HUD. The complaint alleges that Wilson also violated the contract when accepting a legal settlement agreement offered by the ACHA board upon HUD directing the agency to terminate Wilson’s consulting contract, payments for which Franklin also approved.

Living large on the public dime

CAIRO – Hundreds of people here rely on public housing for shelter, with the average income among Alexander County Housing Authority residents just $8,655 a year, the majority of them raising children and nearly half as single mothers. More than half of the county’s children live in poverty, and nearly a third are considered food insecure – meaning they don’t always know from where their next meal is coming.

In articles published in August and September of 2015 titled “Chaos in Cairo” and “Living Large on the Public Dime,” The Southern outlined many of the same concerns about questionable spending on contracts, fine dining, excessive travel, alcohol and gifts that are cited in the federal complaint.

The articles were based on HUD monitoring reports from 2013 and 2014 noting misspending dating back several years, as well as a review of hundreds of receipts, credit card statements and contracts obtained from the ACHA in a public records request.

Click here to see the receipts showing spending by former ACHA employees on fine dining, travel, alcohol and gifts.

In the latter 2015 article, The Southern noted that Wilson attended at least eight training conferences in destination cities between February 2012 and March 2013, the year before his retirement. As well, The Southern outlined a highly questionable travel policy of the ACHA.

The travel policy provided for employees and board members to receive “vouchers” based on the distance to a particular training destination, as if they were being reimbursed for mileage, even if they did not drive, and credit card statements showed that airline tickets appeared to be purchased separately, over the amount of the voucher. The highly unusual government travel policy based the voucher amount on mileage and then deducted 30 percent from the total if airline tickets were separately purchased.

As well, the voucher covered meals and lodging even though credit card receipts showed those items also were often separately charged to the ACHA. Some of those meals included steak, seafood and sorbet at high-end restaurants, as well as alcohol purchases. In the fall of 2015, HUD spokeswoman Gina Rodriguez told The Southern that the agency was not aware of the travel policies of the ACHA because “they have just come to our attention,” but added that a review is often conducted when concerns are brought to the agency’s attention.

The next month, agents from HUD’s Office of Inspector General, wielding a subpoena, paid a surprise visit to the ACHA’s office in Cairo and spent hours carting off boxes of records and electronics. Four months later, HUD seized control of the ACHA, removing local management and assuming day-to-day control of its operations in administrative receivership.

The federal complaint filed Tuesday alleges Wilson and Franklin “knowingly overstated their travel expenses and double charged the ACHA.” According to HUD's complaint, Franklin and/or Wilson took a combined 10 trips between February 2012 and May 2014, costing a combined $41,755.

Excessive travel and spending

The complaint highlights the same case example of what it called “excessive travel” as The Southern cited in an article two years ago of a trip Wilson and Franklin took to Las Vegas in December 2012 for a “TSA: Preventative Maintenance Training" conference. 

According to the federal complaint, Wilson and Franklin, among other things: a) charged the ACHA both for the airfare and mileage to travel to and from Las Vegas; b) charged the ACHA for six days of lodging and eight days of meals, even though the training only lasted two days; c) used the ACHA credit card to pay for their hotel rooms at the Golden Nugget, despite having already received ACHA funds to pay for lodging; and d) used the ACHA credit card to pay for multiple meals and expenses, including alcoholic beverages, even though the ACHA had already paid Wilson and Franklin a meal per diem.

According to the agency’s internal control policies, the expenses were approved by both the then-finance director, Franklin, and then-executive director Wilson.  

Though not cited in as much detail in the federal complaint, The Southern included in its article an example of a bill from that same 2012 trip of mostly alcoholic beverages that appeared to have been paid for by the ACHA’s credit card. The $100 tab at La Salsa Cantina in Las Vegas was mostly for drinks including a frozen margarita ($8.95); a frozen strawberry margarita ($9.50); and two cocktails called JamaicaMe Crazy ($19.50).  

According to the Training Services Association website, the course is designed to help public and private managers of housing stock “substantially reduce their long-term maintenance costs by strengthening their preventative maintenance procedures.” The 1940s-era Cairo public housing complexes from which families are being relocated are crumbling under the weight of age, but also appear to have been neglected for years.

By spring 2015, the housing authority was so financially troubled that it was on the verge of being unable to pay its light bill or meet payroll. Earlier this year, HUD Secretary Ben Carson described the ACHA as “nearly bankrupt.”

On April 10, when federal housing officials told families that it was no longer safe for them to live at Elmwood and McBride and that many families would have to relocate to communities outside of Cairo, residents vigorously asked why no one had been held accountable for the events that led to that emotional night. Brown has said on several occasions that HUD understands the cries for justice. 

“Every dollar misspent on personal travel and other expenses is a dollar that could support the individuals and the families we serve,” Dane Narode, associate general counsel of HUD’s Office of Program Enforcement, said in a statement issued with HUD’s news release on Tuesday. “Taxpayers deserve to know that the public programs they support are helping to meet the needs of the many, not the few.”

In July, HUD filed a separate administrative action against Wilson and Franklin, and former board member and union negotiator John Price, seeking to preclude them from doing business with the federal government in the future. HUD has proposed the indefinite debarment of Wilson and Franklin, and that action is still pending, according to Brown. The government was successful in its efforts to preclude Price from participating in any activities involving federal funds for three years, Brown said.

Brown said that fines also could be assessed as part of the debarment process, but he had no new details on Tuesday. According to congressional leaders, the HUD Office of Inspector General, the agency’s enforcement arm, is also conducting two reviews related to the housing crisis in Cairo — an investigation pertaining to alleged mismanagement by the ACHA, and an assessment of HUD’s oversight role in Cairo. To date, OIG, which would forward any criminal allegations to the Department of Justice for consideration, if warranted, has not released any reports related to either review.

Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman said he sees this action against Wilson and Franklin as a positive development.

“The people who were at the root of the cause of this need to be punished,” he said, adding that he will not be satisfied until responsible parties at HUD, who he believes should have intervened much sooner, also are held responsible. “HUD is a part of this too, so are they going to sue themselves?”

Contract inspectors hired by HUD gave the Elmwood and McBride complexes passing marks for years, and despite documented management problems at the ACHA dating back to at least 2010, HUD dragged its feet to intervene in a substantive way while continuing to send millions of dollars in federal funds to the agency. According to HUD's complaint against Franklin and Wilson, the agency provided the ACHA in excess of $9 million bewteen 2012 and 2015. 

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, whose district includes Cairo, said in a statement that “the people of Cairo have been waiting for a long time, but I’m glad some measure of justice has finally been delivered to them.”

“While accountability will never completely right the wrongs of the past, it will hopefully serve as a deterrent for this type of fraud in the future,” Bost said.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., issued a joint statement saying that the “hardworking people of Cairo deserve accountability from those who manufactured this housing crisis, and we’re glad to see Secretary Carson responding to our repeated requests and finally taking concrete steps to hold Mr. Wilson and Ms. Franklin responsible for their fraudulent management of ACHA.”

The saga of mismanagement in Cairo stretched on for years under the previous administration, with HUD finally placing the AHCA in administrative receivership in early 2016. Under Carson's leadership, the agency swiftly took action upon his confirmation in March to begin the difficult process of relocating residents, many of whom expressed at the time of the announcement that they did not want to leave Cairo. Since that time, 70 families have found new homes, and 115 continue to look.

Some families have been able to stay in Cairo, and HUD officials say they are working to make other opportunities available at other ACHA complexes for those who do not want to leave. About 20 families have moved to Carbondale, and others have relocated to Marion, Paducah, Cape Girardeau and elsewhere. 

“We hope HUD can recover these fines and quickly reinvest the funds in Cairo to ensure the residents of Elmwood and McBride can remain in the community they know and love,” Durbin and Duckworth said, in their statement. Brown said that any recovered money will be returned, per policy, to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 


mollyjaneparker / MOLLY PARKER, THE SOUTHERN  

James Wilson, former director of the Alexander County Housing Authority.


Richard Sitler / Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Kevin McAllister asks questions during a resident meeting concerning the Alexandria County McBride and Elmwood Place public housing. The meeting was held at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Cairo in April.


bhetzler / The Southern File Photo 

Perry County Sheriff Steve Bareis is pictured in his Pinckneyville office in March. Bareis announced in a news release Tuesday he is laying off deputies due to the county's budget woes. 


Crime-and-courts
Anna Bixby Center
Former Anna Bixby Center assistant director gets probation, $60K fine for wire fraud, misuse of funds

HARRISBURG — The former assistant director of Anna Bixby Center was sentenced Tuesday in Saline County after pleading guilty in July to wire fraud and misuse of funds.

Terrie Wingo-Eichorn was sentenced to 48 months of probation and ordered to pay restitution of $50,000, plus fines and court costs for a total $60,000. The court kept $45,000 in bond. The remaining $15,000 must be paid by Oct. 22, 2021.

Wingo-Eichorn and her mother, Barbara Wingo, former director of Anna Bixby Center, were both named in charges filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in March 2015 in Saline County. They were accused of falsifying documents in order to receive grants for fictitious services for victims of domestic violence, loan fraud and taking funds from the center to purchase items such as a computer, LCD television and Nintendo Wii for personal use.

Wingo-Eichorn was originally charged with seven additional counts, all of which were dropped in July: continuing a financial crime enterprise, a Class 1 felony; two counts of forgery, Class 3 felonies; money laundering, Class 3 felony; loan fraud, defrauding a financial institution and employee bribing a financial institution, all Class A misdemeanors.

Wingo pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in October in a plea agreement, and nine additional counts were dropped. She was sentenced to 30 months of probation and ordered to pay restitution and costs totaling $60,000.

Both women are also named as defendants in a chancery suit filed by the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the people of Illinois. A case management conference is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 1.

Anna Bixby Women’s Center has closed.

The Women’s Center, a Carbondale-based organization that serves victims of domestic violence, opened a satellite office in Harrisburg in January 2016 to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Gallatin, Johnson and Saline counties. For information, call 618-294-8641.


Business
AP
GOP shoves tax overhaul ahead; shutdown still a threat

WASHINGTON — Republicans held together and shoved their signature tax overhaul a crucial step ahead Tuesday as wavering GOP senators showed a growing openness. But its fate remained uncertain, and a planned White House summit aimed at averting a government shutdown was derailed when President Donald Trump savaged top Democrats and declared on Twitter, "I don't see a deal!"

"It's time to stop tweeting and start leading," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer retorted after he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuffed the budget meeting with Trump and top Republicans.

Trump lunched with GOP senators at the Capitol and declared it a "love fest," as he had his previous closed-doors visit. But the day underscored the party's yearlong problem of unifying behind key legislation — even a bill slashing corporate taxes and cutting personal taxes that's a paramount party goal.

Tuesday's developments also emphasized the leverage Democrats have as Congress faces a deadline a week from Friday for passing legislation to keep federal agencies open while leaders seek a longer-term budget deal. Republicans lack the votes to pass the short-term legislation without Democratic support.

In a party-line 12-11 vote, the Senate Budget Committee managed to advance the tax measure to the full Senate as a pair of wavering Republicans — Wisconsin's Ron Johnson and Tennessee's Bob Corker — fell into line, at least for the moment. In more good news for the GOP, moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it was a "fair assumption" that she was likelier to support the bill after saying Trump agreed to make property taxes up to $10,000 deductible instead of eliminating that break entirely.

But the fate of the legislation remained uncertain as it headed toward debate by the full Senate, which Republicans control by a slender 52-48. GOP leaders can afford just two defectors, and a half dozen or more in their party have been uncommitted. They include some wanting bigger tax breaks for many businesses but others cringing over the $1.4 trillion — or more — that the measure is projected to add to budget deficits over the next decade.

"It's a challenging exercise," conceded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He compared it to "sitting there with a Rubik's Cube and trying to get to 50" votes, a tie that Vice President Mike Pence would break.

Corker, who's all but broken with Trump over the president's behavior in office, is among a handful of Republicans uneasy over the mountains of red ink the tax measure is expected to produce. He said he was encouraged by discussions with the White House and party leaders to include a mechanism — details still unknown — to automatically trigger tax increases if specified, annual economic growth targets aren't met.

"I think we're getting to a very good place on the deficit issue," Corker said.

But other Republicans are wary of backing legislation that would hold the hammer of potential future tax increases over voters' heads.

"I am not going to vote to automatically implement tax increases on the American people. If I do that, consider me drunk," said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Collins said she'd also won agreement that before completing the tax measure, Congress would approve legislation restoring federal payments to health insurers that Trump scuttled last month. That bill has had bipartisan support, but it's unclear if Democrats would back it amid partisan battling over the tax bill.

McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., met with Trump at the White House despite the top Democrats' no-shows. Trump highlighted their absence by appearing before reporters flanked by two empty chairs bearing Schumer's and Pelosi's names.

Trump said Democrats would be to blame for any shutdown, despite GOP domination of government.

"If it happens it's going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall, which everyone wants," he said. He also said North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile on Wednesday should prompt Democrats to renew negotiations over the spending legislation, which includes Pentagon funding.

"But probably they won't because nothing to them is important other than raising taxes," Trump said.

Trump repeated those claims Tuesday night on Twitter, writing that Democrats "can't now threaten a shutdown to get their demands."

Democrats noted that in May, Trump tweeted the country "needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!" In a tweet of her own Tuesday, Pelosi said Trump's "verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated," adding in reference to the empty-chairs show, "Poor Ryan and McConnell relegated to props. Sad!"

A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid to help Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is also expected to be included in that measure, as well as renewed financing for a children's health program that serves more than 8 million low-income children.

Democrats are also pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as "Dreamers." Conservative Republicans object to including that issue in the crush of year-end business. But GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida joined Democrats in saying he won't vote for the spending bill unless the immigrant issue is resolved.