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updated: 3/23/2012 1:10 AM

Blagojevich era comes back to haunt tollway

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  • Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, shown outside the Illinois Tollway Authority headquarters in Downers Grove, initiated fund transfers from the toll authority to the state's general fund, an inspector general's report says.

      Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, shown outside the Illinois Tollway Authority headquarters in Downers Grove, initiated fund transfers from the toll authority to the state's general fund, an inspector general's report says.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Thousands of miles away in a Colorado prison, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich still manages to raise eyebrows about his influence on the Illinois tollway.

Illinois law requires that toll revenues be used solely for the tollway authority. But the agency transferred more than $33 million to the state's general revenue fund under Blagojevich's watch, tollway Inspector General James Wagner said.

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Wagner, during a quarterly report to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board Thursday, also gave details of several instances where toll collectors scammed the system.

When Blagojevich took office, his administration told the tollway it should transfer $19 million to the general fund. That request was challenged by the Illinois attorney general's office. The governor's office then changed its demand, characterizing the money as an administrative fee the tollway needed to pay for using the services of other state agencies.

The transfers occurred from 2003 to 2007. The tollway would have paid more -- $44 million in total -- but legislation that authorized the transfers to the general fund expired in 2007 so a transfer of $10.5 million was never processed.

The discovery was made while IG staff were looking into another case.

"Funds transfers of this nature could raise concerns about whether the tollway is fulfilling its fiduciary duty," Wagner wrote in a report to the board.

The inspector general also gave details on 11 employee investigations, including four cases where toll collectors resigned after they pretended emergency vehicles were going through their booths but pocketed the tolls, instead. The money involved was $3,421. Emergency vehicles are not charged.

Since Wagner's office unearthed a number of emergency vehicle scams in 2011, "there's been almost no use of the emergency vehicle button," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. "Word is getting out."

Another case involved a toll collector who kept $1,832 in tolls although he did not report the transactions. The employee also had tried a side business of selling jackets to co-workers. It was later found he had been convicted on drug charges and arrested in a prostitution case. The employee was fired Dec. 29.

Wagner also reported that an employee working in the District 15 State Police office misused the computer system to look up criminal background information. The worker resigned and has been charged with official misconduct.

The tollway also suspended two employees without pay for using agency-issued transponders for personal use. The misuse amounted to $3,374.

Wagner's report covered investigations from January through March.

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