Ford Heights ex-mayor charged with stealing $150K from village

Ford Heights ex-mayor charged with stealing $150K from village

One of the state’s poorest communities is already facing enormous financial pressures.

The former mayor of one of Illinois’ most impoverished communities was arrested Aug. 22 on felony theft and misconduct charges, according to the Daily Southtown.

Charles Griffin served as the mayor of Ford Heights from 2009 to 2017, and stands accused of diverting more than $147,000 in taxpayer funds into two bank accounts he used for his own purposes. Current Ford Heights Mayor Annie Coulter first uncovered the irregularities in village finances and reported them to the authorities.

Ford Heights was named one of the poorest suburbs in America in 1987, and residents have seen little improvement since then. A 2016 study by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago found more than two-thirds of individuals aged 20 to 24 in the Cook County suburb were jobless.

Like too many other south suburban communities, Ford Heights has struggled to keep village finances above water despite punishingly high property tax rates. In 2017, about 40 Ford Heights village employees, including firefighters, were not getting paid on time.

One local employee who is getting paid has drawn heavy scrutiny.

Ford Heights School District 169 Superintendent Gregory Jackson took home more than $325,000 in total compensation in 2016, despite his district serving fewer than 500 students. State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-South Holland, introduced a bill in 2017 that would have allowed nearby Chicago Heights School District 170 to absorb the smaller Ford Heights district.

“The goal of [the bill] is to stop the massive theft of funds by the superintendent, Dr. Greg Jackson, and school board through questionable bond deals, vendor contracts and unnecessary expenditures of funds,” Jones told South Cook News.

But the day after House members passed the bill out of committee, Jackson sought and received school board approval to add a special protection to a provision in his contract that guaranteed he would get all the salary and benefits remaining in his contract should his district become consolidated.

The new provision let Jackson decide whether he needs to sue in order to protect that rich payout, and the district would have to pay for the lawyer. Jones estimated this guaranteed Jackson a payment of approximately $1.8 million if his consolidation bill were to pass. The bill was tabled in January 2018.

If public officials in Ford Heights continue to look out for their own bottom lines over the interests of their struggling constituents, the village’s revival will not be imminent.

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