College of DuPage controller disputes school's 9 reasons to fire her
A top College of DuPage administrator who was placed on paid leave and is fighting to save her job has been made a scapegoat by the school's new leadership, and she should be immediately reinstated with a public apology, her attorney says.
Allegations against Lynn Sapyta, COD's assistant vice president of financial affairs and controller, are "vague, unsubstantiated and legally deficient," attorney Peter S. Lubin said, and the college has no legal basis to fire her.
Lubin said the college's stated complaints about Sapyta's job performance are an attempt to blame her for questions about the school's investments, past problems at the COD radio station and a failed restaurant.
"Under the college's new administration, she has been made into a scapegoat and is being cast aside simply to serve the career needs and political aspirations of the new (Acting Interim) President (Joseph Collins) and Board Chair (Kathy Hamilton)," Lubin said in a statement sent to the Daily Herald. "The college's charges against Mrs. Sapyta are simply unfounded, and Mrs. Sapyta should be reinstated as controller."
Informed of Lubin's comments, the college released a brief written statement Thursday: "The College of DuPage handles individual personnel matters with the privacy that they deserve and the law requires. We will provide public information when it is appropriate to do so."
Sapyta and her attorney met with Collins and other school representatives on Wednesday as part of what Lubin described as a pre-termination hearing.
Sapyta is one of three high-ranking COD administrators -- President Robert Breuder and Thomas J. Glaser, senior vice president of administration and treasurer, are the others -- to be placed on paid leave since three new board members were elected in April and Hamilton became college board chairwoman.
Breuder was put on leave in April; Sapyta and Glaser followed in June after an audit revealed the college lost $2.2 million in what was described as a risky investment fund.
The board majority has voted to begin termination proceedings against Breuder as part of what it says are sweeping reforms at the Glen Ellyn-based school in the midst of federal and state investigations into the college's administrative and financial practices.
In addition to Hamilton, that majority includes trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein.
Three other board members, Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak, have said they don't have enough justification to fire Breuder, who is scheduled to step down in March 2016. The previous board voted to force him out three years before his contract expires with a roughly $763,000 severance package. McGuire, Birt and Wozniak were part of that board.
The internal audit that led to the leaves for Sapyta and Glaser was kept under wraps by administrators until the new board majority came to power. It found the college's financial staff increased COD's investments in the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund from about $10 million in April 2014 to more than $80 million five months later.
The college's investment in the fund in April was 4 percent of its portfolio, but it had increased to 29 percent by September -- even though policy established by the board limited investments in local government investment pools to 5 percent.
According to the internal audit, Glaser placed the funds with IMET because of anticipated higher yields, but the fund defaulted on certain loans last October, and COD lost more than $2.2 million -- the greatest such loss of all municipal investors statewide, college officials have said.
A month after being placed on leave, Sapyta received a letter from Collins in mid-July that lists nine actions in which "COD believes that your performance has not been satisfactory, and that you have not faithfully discharged your duties. Any one of these actions listed below would be sufficient to establish unsatisfactory performance and/or failure to faithfully discharge your duties, and would constitute grounds for termination of your employment."
The complaints include:
• Failing to implement and maintain sufficient internal controls to protect the financial integrity of the college regarding COD's radio station.
• Failing to implement and maintain sufficient internal controls at the Waterleaf restaurant.
• Failing to coordinate the distribution of financial information to the Waterleaf.
• Failing to implement accounting practices at the Waterleaf sufficient to forecast the college's revenues and expenditures.
• Failing to coordinate investment of surplus funds in conformance with board-approved policy.
• Failing to implement and maintain sufficient internal controls to protect the financial integrity of the college with respect to the board-approved investment policy.
• Failing to respond in a timely fashion and to cooperate with Internal Auditor James Martner's audit of investments, which began in November 2014.
• Violating the college's ethics policy by using the school's email system on Feb. 24 to solicit votes on behalf of candidates for the April election.
• "Additional violations referenced" in the internal audit of the investments.
Lubin said the allegations are "vague and overbroad" and therefore Sapyta hasn't been given adequate notice of the charges against her. He said COD also failed to provide an explanation of its evidence.
As a result, he said, Sapyta didn't speak when she met on Wednesday with Collins, who will make the decision about whether to fire both Sapyta and Glaser.
"I'm not going to have someone go into a proceeding not knowing what the charges are against them and just be questioned by an inquisitor," Lubin said Thursday. "It was a Star Chamber-like atmosphere."
Before the closed-door hearing, Lubin said he sent an 18-page letter to Collins disputing all the claims against Sapyta. Lubin provided the Daily Herald with a copy.
Lubin said attorneys for both sides did all the talking during the roughly 90-minute session; Collins didn't speak.
Sapyta declined to comment for this story. A five-year COD administrator, she is paid $163,828 a year. Her contract with the school runs through 2017, Lubin said.
When it comes to the IMET investments, Lubin wrote that Sapyta didn't have the authority to make such decisions. That authority rested solely with Glaser and the board.
He said board members should have been aware of how much was being invested because they received monthly reports about COD's investments, which clearly reflected the percentage of funds earmarked for IMET.
"At no point did the board question or criticize the amount of funds invested in IMET," Lubin wrote.
The complaint related to the WDCB campus radio station stems from a former employee being accused of stealing more than $200,000 from the college.
Lubin said administrators other than Sapyta were responsible for overseeing the radio station. He also said the alleged fraud started in about 1998, 12 years before she started working for COD.
"During Mrs. Sapyta's employment, significant changes were made to the internal control structure to enhance and improve controls," Lubin wrote.
An internal investigation of the fraud found that high-ranking COD officials weren't immediately made aware of the criminal history of the former part-time employee charged with stealing the money. When top administrators were made aware of problems at the station in 2013, the report says, they acted quickly.
"The system of internal controls governing the radio station did not fail," Lubin wrote, "and in fact protected the college from a more significant theft from occurring."
Several charges against Sapyta deal with the Waterleaf restaurant, which recently closed after losing almost $2.2 million in a four-year span.
Lubin said the college is trying to blame Sapyta for the losses and for administrators spending more than $183,000 in taxpayer money on meals and alcohol for themselves at the high-end restaurant.
But he said it was Collins, in his previous role as COD's executive vice president, who was responsible for oversight of the restaurant. Lubin also said Collins is among administrators who spent money at the Waterleaf, submitting bills totaling $10,681 between October 2011 and January 2015, according to school records.
School officials say none of the expenses were for Collins' personal entertainment. All the money he spent at the Waterleaf was for outstanding faculty and employee recognition or other official events or functions that were college related. It was mandated by Breuder that those events happen at the Waterleaf.
Lubin's letter also claims Collins is unable to make an impartial decision about whether to fire Sapyta because "he has a significant and obvious self interest in diverting responsibility away from himself." If Sapyta is fired and appeals that decision to the college board, Lubin wants Hamilton to recuse herself.
Furthermore, Lubin said, if there is another hearing, he plans to call Collins and Hamilton as witnesses.
Lubin also said none of the conduct Sapyta is accused of was ever mentioned in her yearly job evaluations. Sapyta, he said, is "a dedicated and loyal employee."