ZEIGLER — A Franklin County Court has sanctioned a local accountant as part of a lawsuit over his handling of the embezzlement investigation of former Zeigler Treasurer Ryan Thorpe.
Thorpe was sentenced June 12, 2018, to serve 48 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $300,000 from the city over about a four-year period. He used the money for personal items including jewelry for his wife, firearms and other personal items. Former City of Ziegler auditor Dennis Uhls was sanctioned last month for destroying files related to audits conducted during Thorpe’s tenure.
The sanction comes as part of a lawsuit the City of Zeigler filed against Thorpe and Uhls in 2018. Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell said the Illinois Municipal League's legal team is representing the city. The IML, which insures the city, is suing on the city’s behalf to recoup the $100,000 it paid out to Zeigler after the city filed a claim to cover the money it lost to Thorpe's scheme. Mitchell said this is routine practice for the IML.
According to Uhls' sanction order, signed by Associate Judge Sonja Ligon, he was accused by the city of professional malpractice by not catching during his audits the more than $300,000 Thorpe stole. The city also accused Uhls of destroying documents pertaining to the city’s audits during Thorpe’s time as treasurer.
According to the sanction order, Uhls was served with a request for documents as part of the ongoing lawsuit on March 18, 2019. Uhls attempted to object and moved to stay the request, according to the order. After that was denied, the order says, Uhls didn't respond until mid-August, when he said he had destroyed the files, citing a federal rule that did not require him to keep documents longer than three years.
Uhls said in his answers to written questions from the court that he was aware of a misuse of funds by Thorpe in 2017.
“Thus, the court finds it unreasonable that the Defendant would destroy documents after the Defendant was aware that Ryan Thorpe had misused city funds in September 2017.
ZEIGLER — Jamie Moyers doesn’t see himself as becoming one of Zeigler’s political elites.
“The court contends that the Defendant destroyed evidence after litigation against him could be reasonably foreseen, after the start of litigation and after discovery was served upon the Defendant,” the sanction order says. The order says that the court agrees with the city that Uhls’ actions were “willful and obstructive” and that he specifically prevented the city from obtaining records that are “highly probative evidence.”
Judge Ligon made the summary judgement that Uhls would be sanctioned and have to pay damages to the city, but how much will be determined at a future court date.
Attorney Aaron Hopkins represents Uhls. Hopkins said in a written statement to The Southern that Uhls is not the real bad guy here — Thorpe is. But his client is being treated as if he were the one doing wrong.
“... a humble accountant who had no complicity with Ryan Thorpe, the true wrongdoer in this matter, will now face considerable monetary sanctions for something he was not a part of, sanctions that Mr. (Uhls) will unlikely be able to pay,” Hopkins wrote.
“Throughout this litigation Mr. (Uhls) has contended that the allegations of the (city) were speculative at best,” Hopkins wrote in the statement.
“No pleading filed by the Plaintiff specified any act of wrongdoing on behalf of Mr. (Uhls) in his capacity as the accountant auditor for the city of Zeigler, only conclusions based upon no stated facts.”
The matter is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 5 through video court, according to court records website Judici.
On Twitter: @ismithreports