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updated: 12/3/2011 11:38 AM

More details emerge on DuPage forest preserve probe

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When DuPage County Forest Preserve officials noticed financial discrepancies within the district's information technology department this summer, they hired an outside consultant for $18,000 to locate the problem.

A forest preserve district reply to a Freedom of Information request from the Daily Herald shows the consulting firm spent most of its billing time interviewing employees and reviewing documents.

A portion of the FOI request was denied, with forest preserve officials saying the requested information was part of an ongoing criminal investigation. A spokesman for State's Attorney Robert Berlin said his office received the forensics findings Nov. 21 and they are under review, but would not confirm a criminal investigation.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the consultant's review said it revealed two district employees may have steered professional service contracts to companies they benefitted from personally. The two had worked for the forest preserve for five years and 10 years, respectively. One resigned Nov. 7, the other was fired Nov. 15.

Forest preserve officials approved a contract in mid-July with JRM Consulting Inc. of Naperville. The independent consulting firm was tasked with conducting an internal computer forensics review. The review launched in late July and lasted nearly two months, according to documents supplied to the Daily Herald.

An invoice from JRM details that four employees spent nearly 125 hours between July 27 and Sept. 23 examining invoices and other records, as well as interviewing forest preserve district officials and information technology staff. The group spent nearly five hours more than its contract with the forest preserve district allowed, but did not bill the district the $150 per hour it was charging.

In the early days of the investigation, one auditor spent nearly six hours with one of the accused employees; no meetings were outlined with the other employee, though. Another auditor met with the forest preserve attorney for one hour, records show.

Several auditors also conducted dozens of hours of interviews and follow-up with IT staff, totaling 42 billable hours on the invoice. Forest preserve executives also met with several auditors at both the start and end of the investigation, totaling nearly 20 billable hours.

The remainder of the review focused on such actions as investigating IT department invoices for this fiscal year and analysis, records show.

Sources with knowledge of the review said it revealed the steered contracts were worth about $12,000 a month and go back at least a year. Contracts worth less than $20,000 can be awarded without board consent, according to forest preserve district policy.

Paul Darrah, spokesman for Berlin, said it's not unusual for an organization to complete its own internal audit before handing information over to Berlin's office.

"There really is no protocol in place," he said. "We've seen it where an organization or business feels there might be some misappropriation of funds or resources, and many times they will conduct an internal audit first and bring the findings to us."

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