Road chief accused of taking payments, not passing them on to Dundee Township
The Dundee Township Highway Department is under investigation by the Kane County sheriff's office -- residents said they paid Highway Commissioner Larry Braasch for new driveway culverts, but there's no record of the township getting the money.
In interviews with the Daily Herald, residents showed two receipts written on highway department letterhead and signed "Larry" for payments totaling $1,572, but Township Clerk Bob Block said he has no records of having received the funds.
The two residents live on the same street as Scott Sinnett, Braasch's opponent in the Feb. 28 Republican primary election, and Braasch says the complaints are political. The investigation began last fall.
"About five months ago the SAO (state's attorney's office) requested that the sheriff's office open an investigation into possible financial crimes within the Dundee Township Highway Department," sheriff's office spokesman Pat Gengler said. "At this time, it is still an open and ongoing investigation and we are not in a position to release any details."
In one of the instances, which both were in 2013, a check for $680 was made out to Braasch personally and cashed. Block, who oversees all township accounts, said he has no record of Braasch turning the funds over to his office and the check was not cashed by his office. The other receipt was for $892, which Block also said he did not receive.
Last week, Braasch appeared at a candidate forum held by the Elgin Area League of Women Voters where he denied receiving personal checks for township work. Braasch is seeking re-election to the seat he has held since 2000.
Sinnett lives at the end of Crescent Drive, a cul-de-sac in the north central portion of the township with nearly three dozen single-family homes. Three of Sinnett's neighbors complained about being charged for the culverts; that led to the sheriff's office investigation.
Braasch said he has no memory of collecting checks or cash from residents for the culvert work.
"It's possible I could have given them something, but I don't recall the situation, so I don't know how to comment on that," Braasch said by phone. "Maybe we asphalted their driveway and we asked them to pay for the asphalt."
The two receipts show payments made for "tubes," "flow ends" and "black top." The tubes are the culverts that run underneath the aprons of the homeowners' driveways, which are technically still township property, and flow ends direct water out of the culverts. The tubes allow stormwater to flow along the front yards of the homes to a drainage ditch in lieu of gutters and sewers.
Hector Delgado Jr. said he asked Braasch about replacing the culvert when Crescent Drive was being repaved in 2013 and was told he'd have to pay for the new culvert. Delgado said he didn't question why he was having to pay for the repair, but he did question why he was making the check out to Braasch himself.
"He said it was because he had paid for the materials," Delgado said.
Many other neighbors also paid for new culverts, but at least one refused. Henry Kolff said he told Braasch that the culvert replacement was the township's responsibility and he refused to pay. His culvert was not replaced. When he went on vacation that year, Kolff said, a crew dug up the ditch in his front yard -- but didn't replace the culvert.
"It literally snaked," Kolff complained, saying the ditch is crooked and holds standing water. "It's terrible. I had ducks sitting in there."
Kolff began talking to neighbors and obtained the receipts.
Highway commissioners in neighboring Cuba and Hanover townships said they wouldn't have charged residents to replace culverts since they are on township property.
Another Crescent Drive homeowner, Barbara Hoover, said she paid for a new culvert and remembers being surprised by the fee since she never had to pay for previous culvert replacements in the nearly 50 years she'd lived there.
"We called to ask about getting it replaced, but we didn't know we'd have to pay because we'd never had to pay before," she said. Township documents show the culverts were bought using taxpayer funds.
Braasch said he routinely charges for the replacement work because he considers the apron of the driveway over the ditch to be the homeowner's driveway. However, he said not all culvert replacements are charged to residents, which he said is his decision.
"Sometimes maybe they can't afford it or if it's in dire need to get water flowing, we just do the job and get it done," he said.
A Daily Herald request for documents that show any payments Braasch or employees of his department made to the township for work on culverts turned up only two $250 permit fees collected by the highway department in 2015 and 2016.
"We have no records of the highway commissioner depositing any money for culverts or from accounts he controls to the township for deposit," Dundee Township Supervisor Sue Harney wrote in her response.
Braasch said he was unaware of the sheriff's office investigation and said he believes he's being "railroaded" by political enemies.
This isn't the only active criminal investigation Braasch is facing. The 71-year-old is charged with indecent exposure and breach of peace in South Carolina after he was accused of touching himself in front of children at a campground last June. Braasch said his arrest was a misunderstanding and that he was not doing anything improper. When asked about the status of that case at the candidate forum, Braasch would not comment because it was still pending.
In 1989, Braasch was charged with felony reckless disposal of hazardous waste after pouring gasoline down a drain in his Carpentersville garage. The gasoline traveled down sanitary sewer lines and the fumes ignited in two neighbors' homes. He eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges, paid restitution and settled insurance claims with the neighbors for an undisclosed amount.