Lawmaker wants tougher punishment for stealing from charities

Tears come to the eyes of state Rep. Keith Wheeler when he talks about how as much as $200,000 is missing, presumably stolen, from the Kendall County Food Pantry.

But beyond the sadness, there's anger.

"They (charity thieves) are stealing from more than one person," Wheeler said.

Thieves reduce the aid that can be given to people and in a way also are stealing from people who give to charities, he said. And news of such fraud can discourage others from donations.

In August, the Oswego Republican filed legislation aimed at toughening the punishment for stealing from a charity. It would make nonprofit organizations special victims under the state's theft law, just like churches, schools and governments, and increase the severity of the charge.

For example, stealing $1,000 from a business is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail; stealing it from a charity would be a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Wheeler was chairman of the pantry board from 2010 to 2013. His wife, Lisa, was secretary of the board of directors. Both left the board in 2014.

He said he was amazed to learn, as his staff researched his bill, the prevalence of fraud. A 2006 study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimated that government, businesses and nonprofits may be losing 6 percent of revenue a year to fraud.

Wheeler is running for re-election Nov. 8. His opponent, Valerie Burd, said she supports his proposal. Burd, as Yorkville mayor, worked with Maria Spaeth on finding a new home for the pantry.

"I had a lot of respect for Maria. I just think the whole thing is a big tragedy," Burd said. While not accusing anybody of anything, "I suspect we won't find out (the results of the investigation) until after the election."

Burd noted that Maria's husband was treasurer of the pantry, "which is not a good situation. They did not have a lot of checks and balances."

What happened at Yorkville food pantry? Director dead, $200,000 missing

Valerie Burd of Yorkville is the Democratic candidate for the state 50th House District, running against incumbent Keith Wheeler.
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