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posted: 5/27/2010 12:01 AM

Former township supervisor: 'I trusted her with everything'

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Hanover Township Supervisor Brian McGuire says there were multiple signs of trouble in the welfare services department that then-Supervisor Michael Kelly should have picked up on.

Kelly, now the village president of Bartlett, was the boss of former Director Aurea Picasso, who McGuire believes may have misused more than $300,000 of township funds over five years.

Kelly signed each welfare check, including one for $3,816 to Picasso's daughter's orthodontist, McGuire said.

Kelly said he didn't knowingly sign any improper checks but says it's possible he overlooked them.

"If this is all true, then she fooled us all, including myself," Kelly said. "She was someone I felt I knew and could completely trust."

McGuire, who acknowledges a long-standing political rivalry with Kelly, said any welfare service check greater than $245 should have caused alarm, since that is roughly the township's general assistance limit.

Kelly, an attorney, said his main concern while signing the 150 or so checks at each board meeting was recognizing a client's name in case of a conflict of interest.

Responsibility falls to the entire board of trustees, Kelly added, since it votes to approve the bills. Auditors also take a thorough look at township books yearly and never caught anything, he said.

McGuire countered that due to privacy issues, only Picasso and Kelly saw the names of the people and vendors the checks were made out to. The trustees and auditors just saw a "General Assistance" label and corresponding amount, he said.

Kelly said he had thought there were enough safeguards in place.

"In retrospect what can I say? I signed those checks," he said. "I have to be responsible. I have to be a man and stand up and take it."

Red flags

A letter dated June 2008 from The Salvation Army Service Extension director to Picasso requests that Picasso stop serving clients on its behalf.

Under the program, volunteers, often welfare directors or employees of a township or municipality, keep a Salvation Army checkbook to pay third parties, such as a landlord or utility company, when the resident doesn't qualify for general assistance or other programs.

The letter said Picasso's supplies and authorization number would be taken away while an audit of her records was conducted. The letter states that a copy was sent to Kelly.

"I never saw that letter," Kelly said. "I can guarantee that."

A Salvation Army spokeswoman declined to say why Picasso's authorization was taken away or what the audit found. Picasso, meanwhile, said the agency changes its representatives every few years and it was simply procedure.

Then on April 2, 2009, Streamwood Police Department detectives told Kelly they believed Picasso paid a personal credit card debt with $500 she took from the Hanover Township Food Pantry and Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit founded and run by Kelly, according to a police report.

At the time, the detectives were also looking into the identity theft for which Picasso was later convicted and sent to prison.

Kelly said the police asked him not to speak to Picasso about the $500 due to their active investigation, and the foundation board later decided not to file a complaint. He said there was a possibility she merely made a legitimate expense on her credit card for the foundation with the expectation of getting reimbursed.

'I trusted her'

"That was the one and only item on the table at that point, and I trusted her with everything," Kelly said. "In retrospect, there were a lot of other things going on with her, but I didn't know about any of them."

The foundation board's treasurer, state Sen. John Millner, said he was never able to attend a board meeting and wasn't involved in the decision not to prosecute. Millner said he called a special board meeting in November 2009 when he heard of the $500 payment, where the board agreed to dissolve the foundation.

Kelly said he mentioned the police investigation to Administrator James Barr shortly before leaving office to take over as mayor of Bartlett. Barr confirmed that conversation took place the Friday before the new administration took office on May 18, and that he told the township attorney.

McGuire said Kelly should have put Picasso on administrative leave or investigated during the six weeks between talking to police and talking to Barr.

"He should have done something to protect the taxpayers of the township," McGuire said. "I certainly wouldn't have left her in that capacity."

During an interview at Dwight Correctional Center, where she's serving a three-year sentence for identity theft unrelated to her township post, Picasso said Kelly is a kindhearted man and was a good boss.

She said she faced discrimination because she's Hispanic and that other workers made her "life a living hell" because of her friendly relationship with Kelly.

"(McGuire and his staff) always hated Mike Kelly, and they're trying to take him down by going through me," Picasso said. "This is political warfare, and they need to keep me out of it."

While township officials say no background check was done before Picasso was hired, she said she disclosed her 2003 conviction for stealing from public aid to Kelly and Township Attorney Larry Mraz, explaining she took the money to pay off dangerous people connected to her son, who was involved in drugs and gangs.

Kelly said he doesn't remember the meeting, and Mraz called Picasso's claim "categorically false."

"Based on Aurea's history of theft and dishonesty, her word, to put it kindly, is not very trustworthy," Mraz said. If he'd known of her prior conviction, he said, "my recommendation would have been to terminate her employment."