DuPage forest district sues to recoup funds
The day after two ex-employees were charged with scamming the DuPage Forest Preserve District out of more than $150,000, the district filed a civil suit Thursday seeking to recover the lost funds.
The complaint was filed in DuPage County Circuit Court. Officials say they were waiting for the state's attorney's office to complete its investigation.
"We want to make sure we take every step possible to recover every dollar possible for taxpayers," said forest preserve board President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr.
The forest district is seeking to void the contracts with one of the companies named in the scandal and is asking for a hearing to determine an amount that potentially could be returned to the district.
Also Thursday, the former IT director accused in the bid-rigging scandal was held on $300,000 bail. Mark McDonald, 52, of Wheaton, appeared in bond court on charges of theft, official misconduct and unlawful participation in kickbacks.
Authorities arrested McDonald at a Chicago airport late Wednesday after he flew in from Florida, where he had been living about a month, prosecutors said.
McDonald told Judge Elizabeth Sexton he hasn't worked since he left as director of information technology for the forest preserve district last November.
He is accused, along with David Tepper, the district's former IT department manager, of running two "elaborate" schemes that swindled the district out of more than $150,000.
Officials allege McDonald and the others set up a company that was given forest preserve work.
"It was billing the forest preserve for service and equipment that were never received," Assistant State's Attorney Ken Tatarelis said.
Tatarelis said the scheme with a third defendant -- 37-year-old Arif Mahmood of Glendale Heights, who worked as a contractor with the forest preserve district -- involved a $400,000 contract that resulted in more than $60,000 in kickbacks going to the two forest preserve employees.
McDonald said he was not likely to be able to post bond. His next court date is Sept. 20 in front of Judge Blanche Hill Fawell.
In announcing the charges Wednesday night, the DuPage County State's Attorney's office alleged McDonald and Tepper stole more than $100,000 from the district over a six-year period, capping a months-long probe that involved the assistance of the FBI.
While acting as co-owners of Integrated Design Solutions, McDonald and Tepper billed the forest preserve district for more than $90,000 worth of equipment and services that were never delivered from July 2005 through November 2011, according to the state's attorney.
Mahmood, according to prosecutors, was the owner of now-shuttered Alamach Technology Inc., which overbilled the forest preserve district for contracted work and subcontracted with Integrated Design Solutions in the amount overbilled for the services that were never provided, authorities said. Mahmood, of the 400 block of Greenbriar Drive, is accused of stealing more than $10,000 from the district.
Records show that between November 2009 and October 2011 the forest preserve paid Chicago-based Alamach at least $488,000 for services.
McDonald and Tepper were each charged with felony theft, unlawful participation, official misconduct and kickbacks, while Mahmood has been charged with theft and kickbacks.
Tepper was released after posting $30,000 of his $300,000 bail, and Mahmood was released after posting $20,000 of this $200,000 bail.
"It is unsettling when a public employee is accused of wrongdoing," said State's Attorney Robert Berlin, who credited the forest preserve district with "after conducting their own internal investigation, brought this matter to our attention. They have been cooperative and helpful throughout this entire investigation."
Still, the news brought criticism from a candidate seeking a seat on the forest preserve board. "In short, there is little to no oversight and they're trying to avoid accountability," said Steve Leopoldo, a Democrat running in District 3. He blamed the problem on a 1988 policy that does not require disclosure of subcontractors or owners during the bid process.
The investigation began in the summer of 2011. Forest preserve officials paid a computer forensic company more than $61,000 to investigate whether taxpayer funds were being misused by the district's information technology staff. The attorney for the forest preserve said the costly third-party investigation was done to ensure accusations against McDonald and Tepper were true. One was fired Nov. 15, while the other resigned Nov. 7.
The forest preserve turned over findings of the investigation to the state's attorney's office three days after the investigation ended.