Federal probe of COD likely to be lengthy, experts say
Federal investigators who launched a criminal investigation of College of DuPage could be looking for possible fraud or "anything" else, legal experts say.
But they also say it's entirely possible the feds could conclude no crimes were committed. One thing, though, is certain: The investigation is likely to be lengthy.
"Financial investigations such as this one are highly detail-oriented," said Juliet Sorensen, a former federal prosecutor and now a clinical associate professor at Northwestern University School of Law. "Somebody is going to be meticulously analyzing those documents to see if they are relevant and contribute to a body of evidence in a criminal investigation."
COD officials last week received subpoenas requesting a mountain of documents related to school President Robert Breuder, college trustees, senior management personnel, COD Foundation members "and/or entities in which COD Foundation members are professionally associated." The foundation is the college's fundraising arm.
In response to the subpoenas, college and foundation officials issued a joint statement that read: "The College of DuPage and the College of DuPage Foundation are confident in the proper conduct of their affairs and will fully cooperate with any government investigation."
The Daily Herald obtained copies of the grand jury subpoenas through a Freedom of Information Act request.
One of the subpoenas seeks information dating back to Jan. 1, 2009. That includes bank, credit card and debit card records, personnel records, emails, payment records, meeting minutes and recordings, calendars, and records relating to services, contracts or bids.
A second subpoena issued to the college's Suburban Law Enforcement Academy demands emails, class rosters, instructor grade certifications and academic and grade transcripts.
In the wake of revelations about the federal probe, the Daily Herald asked several area law professors to discuss what authorities might be looking for and to speculate, when possible, about the scope of the investigation.
"It's impossible to tell from the breadth of that set of subpoenas what they're looking for," said Allen Shoenberger, a professor at Loyola University School of Law. "It could be anything."
It's "quite typical" for federal investigators to issue subpoenas seeking a wide range of documents, he added.
"This is not unusually broad if they decide that somebody at a high executive level for a public entity may have done something wrong," Shoenberger said. "This is pretty much routine."
Hugh Mundy, an assistant professor at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said investigators are using the subpoenas as a tool for discovery.
"They are using the subpoena power to review documents that may be used for a later criminal prosecution," he said.
Mundy said there's a possibility that investigators don't yet know what they're looking for.
"Sometimes what they ultimately find is much different from what they expected or set out to find at the beginning," he said.
Sorensen said the scope of the subpoenas gives her the impression that investigators could be exploring possible fraud.
"Presumably, they have reason to believe there may be evidence related to what appears to be a scheme to defraud that may go back as far as 2009," she said.
That could be why federal investigators are seeking so much information.
"It's not particularly (unusual) when it's a financial scheme, as this investigation appears to be," Sorensen said. "The government is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the participants in a scheme knew what they were doing and did it on purpose."
The federal investigation comes as the DuPage County state's attorney's office is doing its own probe of COD. DuPage prosecutors issued subpoenas seeking years of spending records and contract information for Breuder. In January, the COD board approved a controversial $762,000 buyout package for Breuder, who is scheduled to retire next March.
Experts don't expect the two investigations to get in the way of one another. "They're pretty good at coordinating," Sorensen said.
Meanwhile, she stressed it's "not a foregone conclusion" that federal charges will be filed.
"The U.S. attorney's office and the federal agencies are very thorough," Sorensen said. "That can lead to strong criminal cases, but it can also lead to the conclusion that the strength of the evidence isn't there."