By Stuart R. Wahlin
According to documents obtained by The Rock River Times, Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7), then-manager of business and administration for the Rockford Park District’s ice facilities, resigned her post in 2002 amid allegations of misusing a district credit card after a cash advance from the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin was revealed on a statement. The charge raised a red flag when the card statement was received in the district’s accounting division.
An Oct. 15, 2001, interoffice memorandum to Dan Gundrum, then-senior manager of recreation facilities, indicated: “There is a District MasterCard which is permanently assigned to Icehouses. As far as I know, Ann Thompson has possession/control of this card for the Ice Facilities. Our normal process with this credit card statement is to send a copy of the statement to Ann and she will forward receipts and account numbers to Accounts Payable so that the bill can be paid.”
The statement had reportedly only been received the day before, so no copy had been sent to Thompson yet.
“It appears to me from the statement that there is a possible misuse/non-business use of that credit card during the month of September,” the memo continued. “On September 9th there is a cash advance and a related finance charge for the cash advance which appears to have been taken at Grand Victoria.”
An investigation was requested to determine whether the charge was business-related.
A credit card statement obtained by this publication through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Park District confirmed a $212.99 charge at Grand Victoria Sept. 9, 2001.
A Nov. 26, 2001, memo from Gundrum to Thompson, with a subject line stating “Reconciliation of Park District Master Card Account,” indicated: “On two separate occasions, you were asked to supply information to reconcile the Master Card statement regarding the misuse of that card. Specifically, I am referring to the cash advance taken from the casino on or about September 9, 2001.”
A typed statement to district officials from Thompson explaining the charge indicated: “On September 9, 2001, coming from a [sic] event I had a [sic] accident. I hit something on Hiway [sic] 31. It puncture [sic], my front tire and blue [sic] my back tire out. I walked to the Grand Victoria to call a tow truck, the truck arrived and The [sic] amount it would be to tow me home $250. I did not have $250. [sic] With me, and he wanted to be paid because of the (40 miles). I only had $50.”
The statement from Thompson also noted $219.38 had been repaid in full to the district Oct. 26, 2001, more than a month-and-a-half after the cash advance from the casino.
In his Nov. 26 memo, Gundrum requested a handwritten receipt Thompson would have received for towing services rendered, a copy of the receipt for the cash advance received at the casino, and the name and number of the towing company she allegedly used. Gundrum asked for Thompson to present the documentation by Dec. 7, 2001, warning, “Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action for misuse of a Rockford Park District credit card.”
Gundrum, according to documents obtained by this publication, received no response from Thompson until Dec. 9. In her memo responding to Gundrum’s Nov. 26 request, Thompson explained she had only seen Gundrum’s memo that day. She, however, challenged Gundrum’s assertion that she failed to comply with two previous requests for information.
“I also indicated to you at that time that I did not have the receipts, that I would look for them, and as soon as I found them I would give you that information,” she argued. Thompson then followed this statement by alleging that Gundrum’s demand for towing and cash advance receipts “are new requests from you.”
The bulk of another memo to Thompson, dated Dec. 13, 2001, contained in the documents obtained through the FOIA request appears to have been redacted. The subject line, however, reads “Suspension pending investigation.”
The portion of the memo that was not redacted again appeared to be a request for the name and phone number of the towing company, as well as receipts for the wrecker service and cash advance.
“Once we have received this information, we will review what you present to us to assure that it supports your version of the events of September 9,” the memo from Gundrum and Human Resources Manager Diane Barber stated. “Please note that if we have not received the requested information by the close of business on December 18, 2001, we will assume that the information does not exist and make our decisions accordingly.”
A handwritten note from Barber below this warning reported, “As of 11:20 on 12/19, we have received no response from Ann.”
Soon after, Rockford Park District Police Department Detective Daniel Watton was asked to assist the Human Resources Department in its efforts to obtain the missing information. Specifically, district officials sought to determine whether the alleged towing company, Fernandez Towing, had any record of transporting Thompson’s vehicle from Elgin to Rockford.
Upon calling Miguel Fernandez, the company’s owner, Jan. 3, 2002, to inquire about towing records for the alleged Sept. 9, 2001, incident, according to Watton’s report, “Miguel then asked, ‘Is this about Ann Thompson?’”
Fernandez explained to Watton that he’d received a number of calls from Thompson, who had been requesting a receipt for the alleged towing of her vehicle.
“I asked Miguel if [he] had any information on file, and I was informed that he did not tow anyone by that name to Rockford from Elgin, but that he needed to check his records and also his two brothers,” Watton’s report continued, noting the brothers are the only employees of the company. Watton indicated he would meet Fernandez the following day to review records.
The next day, Fernandez asserted to Watton that neither of his brothers had towed any vehicle to Rockford with a female passenger. Watton, along with the three Fernandez brothers, then took turns reviewing stacks of service receipts for all of 2001.
“There was no tow receipt located for a name of Ann Thompson,” Watton indicated. “Miguel stated that the only way that the receipt could not have been in the file is if it was lost. (It should be noted that there were other receipts for that date).”
According to Watton’s report, Fernandez then called Thompson while in his presence.
“Miguel, however, said that he was not going to issue a receipt based upon his current knowledge that the vehicle was actually towed,” Watton stated. “Miguel asked if she had turned the information in to her insurance company, and I informed him that I thought this was mentioned. Miguel said that if she had done this, then her insurance company would have a copy of the receipt available for her. Miguel said that if she insisted on the receipt, that he would request her insurance company’s information, so that he could make contact with them, to get a copy of the receipt faxed to him.”
According to district officials, no such record was ever provided by Thompson or the insurance company.
Watton’s report to Barber was dated Jan. 4, 2002. Thompson’s resignation was effective the same day.
Thompson-Kelly refused to comment regarding the incident unless The Rock River Times would divulge the source of the anonymous tip that led to the FOIA request.
Cash advance incident predates another controversy
Thompson-Kelly, still just Thompson at the time, also came under fire in 2006 after it was learned her janitorial company received $526,804 to act as an intermediary between Sjostrom & Sons and concrete supplier Meyer Material during construction of the Winnebago County Justice Center’s foundation.
By her own admission, Thompson’s Galaxy Commercial Cleaning only handled paperwork, and none of her employees touched a single bag of concrete mix. Citing privacy, she never disclosed a profit or loss related to the deal, and did not disclose the business relationship with the county, including cleaning services performed for the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District, in her statement of economic interest when running to win back her Seventh Ward seat on the Rockford City Council in 2005. Thompson argued she was only required to divulge relationships with the city, such as her company’s cleaning services for the Rockford Public Library, which was disclosed in her financial statement.
Sjostrom & Sons had been awarded $3.87 million as a general contractor for work on the new jail, but with urging from the county to subcontract 10 percent of the work to companies owned by minorities or females, suggesting Sjostrom bolstered its numbers by awarding the concrete deal to Thompson in December 2004. Her cleaning company was also reportedly considered by Sjostrom for cabinets, doors and other hardware.
Although no criminal wrongdoing was determined to have taken place, only “bad judgment,” County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) referred to the incident as “tokenism.”
The ill-timed controversy emerged as Thompson was pushing fellow aldermen to commit to awarding 25 percent of the city’s procurement contracts to minority-owned businesses, and 5 percent to businesses owned by women. She later revised her proposal to 20 and 10 percent, respectively. The policy, however, was approved without specific percentage benchmarks for women and minorities. The policy’s lack of substance was widely attributed to the questionable example set at the county level, which compromised the credibility of such a diversity policy.
From the Aug. 18-24, 2010 issue