Written by Adam Andrzejewski
In a rural Illinois county, an IT forensic audit of government computers allegedly turns up porn, theft of services, bid rigging, campaigning, running personal businesses, political fundraising, surfing sports websites, and thousands of Facebook posts, dating and shopping website hits.
The decline toward lawlessness begins when a community tolerates minor violations of public order – vandalism of abandoned structures, turnstile jumpers, and the like. Left unchecked, small offenses turn into more serious crimes. This is the Broken Windows theory of criminology.
Thanks to the courageous leadership of a county chairman, Rod Copas, in rural Iroquois County (100 miles south of Chicago in mid-central Illinois) a recent IT forensic audit of government computers released yesterday provides alleged evidence backing this theory.
An analysis of four employee computers by Garrett Discovery Inc. in the health department allegedly turned up hundreds of downloaded porn images, 3,000 hits on shopping websites,1,400 hits on dating websites, and 7,600 social media- Facebook posts/comments. The analysis also found evidence of a public credit for private use, bid rigging, running personal businesses, campaigning, and political fundraising, not to mention google searches for grossly inappropriate and explicit terms and 10,000 google searches for key words such as cars, makeup, apartments, sports, Disney and clothes.
All this was discovered after Copas led the charge to disband the department for the allegedly larger crimes such as $4 million federal flood grant fraud, public credit cards used for private beer and gasoline purchases, and substantial gift card employee compensation that circumvented payroll taxes.
Yet, there are still no indictments much less prosecutions of wrongdoing. At Wednesdays county board meeting, Copas said, “I wish I could put into words what I have seen and the lack of prosecution of blatant criminal acts that have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The audit firm contracted for the searches doesn’t see Iroquois County as an outlier. In order to understand the pervasiveness of “small crimes” in Illinois, we reached out to the principal Andrew Garrett.
“As a forensic expert,” Garrett explained, “I have examined many computers used by county and state employees and most were used for personal business and over half were used inappropriately or to violate state and federal laws.”
Garrett went on to say that “forensic auditing is a necessary practice to ensure that the taxpayers are protected from wrongdoing.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Edgar County Watchdogs (recently profiled here at Forbes), also gave testimony saying, “We uncovered collusion to commit crimes, self-dealings, fraud, official misconduct as well as outright deceptive practices by public employees who many of you continue to defend, which we now see today has been validated by a professional forensic expert.”
In Illinois and across the country it is time to crack down on the small stuff. We should not only look into statewide offices and agencies, but burrow down to the township and municipal level where the mindset of waste, greed and insider dealing sets in.
What the forensic audits have uncovered in Iroquois County goes on in some form in many of Illinois’ 6,900-plus government entities. Yet, Attorney General Lisa Madigan prosecuted only 15 public corruption cases from 2002-2011, despite a staff of 727 employees.
Illinois’ 102 state’s attorneys can do better as well. Unforunately, few of them seem interested in prosecuting public corruption even though it is politically popular.
Sadly, the township/county political apparatus makes it difficult for a state’s attorney to prosecute the people whose political organizations put them in their seat. This is why we see so little prosecution of minor infractions, and this is how the mindset of corruption –legal and illegal – creeps in.
Some people use the excuse that “everybody does it” when lamenting Illinois’ brand of government malfeasance. It’s time to confront this mindset head-on.
To reverse the rapid decline of this state, we must start prosecuting these so-called minor infractions. We must call them the morally toxic destroyers of trust and integrity that they are. Wrong-doers need to feel the bite of losing jobs and benefits.
The solution is for the legislature to dramatically expand adversarial forensic audits to specifically target corrupt practices and claw-back taxpayer dollars. Independent auditors need robust tools to go further than the pro-forma annual auditing and begin formal IT auditing practices.
We must fix the “broken windows” of Illinois corruption. Or, we can continue to watch talented people and dynamic companies leave this once admired state.