A former part-time College of DuPage employee is being held on $400,000 bail after being charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the campus radio station in a seven-year span.
John Valenta, 65, of Wheaton was charged Thursday with felony theft stemming from a portion of his time as a radio engineer at WDCB 90.9-FM, DuPage County state's attorney's spokesman Paul Darrah said. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that while working at the radio station from June 2006 through December 2013, Valenta billed the college for more than $200,000 from his private company, Broadcast Technologies, including invoices for parts that were never used at WDCB and labor that was never performed.
Assistant State's Attorney Ken Tatarelis said that when Valenta is indicted, probably next week, authorities plan to charge him with Class X felony theft, an even more serious charge, because the case involves stealing from a school. If that happens, and if he is convicted, he could be sentenced to as many as 30 years in prison.
Valenta first was hired by COD in April 1978 and then resigned in July of that year. He was rehired in November 1979 and left his position for good last February, according to the college.
College officials said Thursday they uncovered the fraud in December 2013 and reported it to police. They said they also immediately informed the school's external auditors, Crowe Horwath.
Based on its review, Crowe Horwath did not change its opinion or require a restatement of either the radio station's or the college's financial statements. The firm gave the college a "clean" opinion, COD officials said.
"This administration uncovered the alleged fraud and worked closely with the state's attorney's office to provide them with the appropriate information," COD President Robert Breuder said in a written statement.
In a second statement released Thursday evening, COD officials responded to assertions by what they called "outside political action groups" that administrators were told Valenta was indicted in 2011 and accused of stealing up to $10,000 from Elmhurst College, where he also worked as a radio engineer. He pleaded guilty in May 2012 and was sentenced to 24 months' probation.
Tatarelis said Valenta was still on probation when some of the COD thefts occurred.
"Following an internal review, it remains unclear about the nature of the communication between the Elmhurst College and COD police departments in the first six months of 2011," COD officials said in the statement.
The college said Breuder has hired an outside law firm for the "limited purpose" of reporting to the COD board of trustees "findings stemming from any communications of the 2011 arrest of John Valenta."
"When the report is completed," officials said in the statement, "it will be provided to President Breuder and the board chairman (Erin Birt)."
Thursday night, College of DuPage Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs Lynn Sapyta defended the college at its board meeting. She said the fraud happened over a long period of time.
"I want the takeaway to be here tonight that this fraud went on for 16 years," Sapyta said. "It was caught in 2013 under this team, not the team back then. So there are controls. It's very hard to detect fraud when there's collusion, and that's all I can say."
Valenta appeared in bond court Thursday afternoon via video while wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.
He told Judge Robert Rohm he is retired and supports his wife and two children with his Social Security and pension.
Rohm asked Valenta if he thought he could make bail.
"It's going to be difficult," Valenta said. "I'm hoping so."
When the judge asked him a second time, Valenta told him, "I'm going to give it a real good shot."
State's Attorney Robert Berlin said the case "clearly illustrates the concept of simple greed. The defendant had a good job for more than two decades before he allegedly decided to illegally supplement his income at the expense of the College of DuPage."
Valenta's next court date is at 9:05 a.m. March 2 in courtroom 4004.