An "extremely remorseful" and "deeply shamed" Christopher Brooke Beal stood before Cook County Judge Lauren Gottainer Edidin on Wednesday and apologized to residents of the 23 suburban municipalities that make up the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County for stealing $850,000 during his tenure as executive director.
In exchange for his guilty plea to theft of government property, the judge sentenced Beal to seven years in prison, one more than the minimum sentence available for the felony. Cook County sheriff's deputies took Beal into custody immediately after the hearing.
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Beal, 49, admitted falsifying expense reports and submitting reimbursement requests for out-of-pocket expenses for training at Harvard and Northwestern universities and the University of Chicago.
"He never attended a single class or seminar or educational course," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Nick Trutenko. "None of those expenses did truly exist."
Defense attorney Thomas Breen requested the minimum sentence, pointing out to the court that before this Beal "lived a law-abiding life."
"He was a man of good character prior to this case," said Breen, who called his client's behavior "an aberration."
Established in 1988, SWANCC handles solid waste pickup and disposal for 23 suburban communities stretching from Lake Michigan to Barrington. Beal, who began working at the agency in January 1993, committed the thefts between Feb. 26, 2006, and Oct. 13, 2010.
An outside forensic audit in October 2010 revealed Beal's financial discrepancies, at which point the board relieved the 17-year employee of his duties and notified the state's attorney. Beal resigned his $160,000-a-year position soon after.
In her ruling, Edidin noted that while Beal's "crime was not violent in nature," it did unfold over four years during which "the defendant could have stopped his actions, which would have limited the loss to the public."
"All things considered, this is a very fair disposition for the residents of our 23 communities," said SWANCC Chairman and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, who commended the state's attorney's office and Glenview police for their efforts.
"Why he did this I have no idea. I hate to see anyone as bright as he is betray the trust we put in him," said Van Dusen, who called the sentence fair and the situation tragic.
After the hearing, Breen speculated on his client's possible motivation.
Months before the thefts began, Beal received a job offer from a San Francisco company for more money that also included a pension, Breen said. SWANCC officials agreed to match the offer but did not, he said.
"After that, he felt he had been had. And while he respected the people he worked for, he was angry," Breen said. "It was so poorly covered up he thought it would be discovered at any time."
In the wake of the thefts, officials had two outside financial agencies review SWANCC's policies, said Secretary/Treasurer James Norris, Hoffman Estates village manager. An outside company handles accounting and bookkeeping for the agency, which also instituted more frequent board reviews of financials, among other changes, Norris said.
Beal gave some money away and spent the rest on clothes, expensive dinners, a Michigan summer home and a boat that the bank repossessed, Breen said.
SWANCC officials believed Beal received a fair wage, said Van Dusen, pointing out that Beal negotiated and agreed to his contract.
"If he was dissatisfied, he never indicated that to me," Van Dusen said.
SWANCC officials filed a federal lawsuit against Beal, which Breen says was settled with his client agreeing to repay the $850,000 he stole.