$95 million in hidden spending revealed at College of DuPage

October 7, 2014
By Austin Berg

Illinois’ second-largest college was revealed on Oct. 2 to have hidden more than $95 million in spending since 2009, according to data from American Transparency’s openthebooks.com.

The waste therein has cost students and taxpayers dearly.

Illegitimate spending at the College of DuPage, or COD, included $13,800 in membership dues to a private shooting club for COD President Robert Breuder, $243,305 on liquor described on ledger lines as “instructional supplies” and millions of dollars to companies connected to college leadership.

The Washington Times awarded the school with its “Golden Hammer” award for egregious examples of government waste, fraud and abuse, and detailed the college’s crony dealings with leadership:

“The College of DuPage spent $435,365 on purchases from Herricane Graphics since 2009. Carla Burkhart, the owner of the graphic design company, is listed as a member of the College of DuPage foundation’s board of directors. Mark Wight, the president of Wight & Company, a construction company that pocketed $328,020 from the college, is a vice president of the college’s foundation.

“The law firm Robbins Schwartz Nicholas Lifton & Taylor took in more than $464,873 from the College of DuPage since the beginning of 2009. Kenneth Florey, an attorney at the firm, sits on the foundation’s board, as well. So does Scott Marquardt, the president of Roger Marquardt & Co., the college’s lobbying firm. The company received $229,500 in non-disclosed payments from the College of DuPage in the past five years.”

The transactions – of which there were more than 82,000 – were hidden through COD’s “imprest funds.” These funds are similar to petty cash, but designated “petty-cash” funds were hardly ever used, totaling $4,267 in payments over the past five years.

Imprest funds, however, were used with no oversight from the college’s board to the tune of over $1.5 million a month, on average, over the same time period.

And while President Breuder claimed that these payments were only used on amounts less than $15,000 (board policy dictates that administrators may pay bills of less than $15,000 without providing itemized reports), data from openthebooks.com show 232 payments totaling $5.5 million exceeded that threshold.

“While claiming transparency of all payments, the college pushed tens of millions of dollars in payments to school vendors and employees through an imprest accounting scheme to hide the transactions and details from the board, taxpayers and students,” said openthebooks.com founder Adam Andrzejewski.

This echoes September findings from the Daily Herald’s Jake Griffin, who reported that the college, located in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, had spent $26 million over 16 months without the board seeing a single itemized receipt.

Griffin quoted COD board Vice Chairman and certified public accountant Kathy Hamilton as saying: “The board doesn’t know what it’s approving … The fact is, we don’t get any information about what’s going through there.”

The board may not have known where the money was going, but school administrators certainly did. Some of the waste is baffling.

Breuder billed taxpayers and students for three global satellite phones to be used on exotic hunting trips from 2012-2014. He and other senior managers also double-dipped on car allowances to collect $4,809 for in-district mileage reimbursement.

Lack of oversight combined with nefarious actors has proved costly to taxpayers and COD students. The college has hiked tuition each year for the past 14 years while maintaining a student loan default rate of 20.1 percent. And since 2008, COD has hiked local property taxes by 59 percent.

But Andrzejewski is encouraged by the power of citizen accountability, urging residents to demand a property-tax freeze at COD’s board of trustees meeting in October.

In the wake of this fiscal boondoggle, the college could do with a lot less.

Image source.