Grand jury subpoenas COD records on Waterleaf spending
A DuPage County grand jury has subpoenaed spending records by College of DuPage officials at a now-defunct upscale campus restaurant as part of an ongoing criminal investigation by State's Attorney Robert Berlin.
COD officials acknowledged receiving the subpoenas Tuesday and a spokesman said college leaders are "fully cooperating with all external investigations."
Berlin refused to comment on the case.
The subpoenas seek copies of all payments made by the college on "house accounts" for college administrators and board trustees, and board and staff members of the College of DuPage Foundation, the college's fundraising arm, at the recently shuttered Waterleaf Restaurant.
House accounts allow designated individuals to simply sign for business-related campus purchases.
The grand jury also asked for minutes of any board meetings where discussion of approving these types of payments were made dating back to 2009.
Legal experts said that because it's a local grand jury issuing the subpoena and not a federal one, the investigation is not likely to be looking into any type of tax issues.
"This tells me they are looking for whether the expenditures are legitimate," said attorney Dave Stetler, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in white-collar criminal defense and is not involved in the COD case. "They're looking to see, 'Did someone use (public funds) to make personal purchases?'"
Current COD Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton has criticized spending by administrators at the restaurant in the past but was skeptical this latest subpoena would amount to anything, calling it "a little too little and a little too late."
Earlier this month, Berlin refused to prosecute college officials for an Open Meetings Act violation that occurred in 2011, a decision Hamilton also criticized. Berlin, at the time, said any sanction against college officials would be "disproportionate" to the violation, adding that the usual protocol is to warn boards not to do it again.
The Illinois attorney general's office had ruled the meeting to be in violation.
Throughout much of her tenure, Hamilton butted heads with ousted COD President Robert Breuder and the six other board members over spending practices, which included nearly $20,000 in board meals over 16 months at Waterleaf. She was the lone dissenting vote on a $763,000 contract buyout package the board approved for Breuder earlier this year.
That buyout sparked outrage by watchdog groups and calls for investigations and reforms. It propelled allies of Hamilton to victory in three contested board races in April, which allowed Hamilton to ascend to board chairwoman.
Hamilton said the former board failed to protect the public's money.
"The existence of house accounts is dismaying because they were never approved by the board," she said. "It represents a breach of trust between taxpayers and the administration, and the board was complacent and (were) beneficiaries."
Breuder has since been placed on leave and his contract voided, and key college financial officials have been fired.
Attempts to reach Breuder's attorney were unsuccessful.
This latest subpoena comes months after Berlin launched an investigation into potential wrongdoing by college administrators. Berlin's office issued three subpoenas to the college, two dated Feb. 5 and one dated March 19, concerning Breuder and a member of the board of the COD Foundation. A separate subpoena was also issued to the College of DuPage Foundation but was withdrawn by the state's attorney's office.
• Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Justin Kmitch contributed to this report.