Former Lake Forest city manager indicted following Amtrak lobbying scandal

Former Lake Forest city manager indicted following Amtrak lobbying scandal

A grand jury indicted Lake Forest’s longtime city manager for making $200,000 in unauthorized payments to a lobbying firm in an effort to attract funding for an unpopular proposed Amtrak stop.

One of Illinois’ longest serving and highest paid former local officeholders is facing felony charges for abuses of public funds that span back to 2016.

On Oct. 23, a Lake County grand jury indicted former Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely on a count of official misconduct. Kiely, who retired in 2018 after three decades in public service, illegally paid nearly $200,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm between January 2016 and March 2017, according to a news report.

The indictment accuses Kiely of abusing his office by engaging in behavior “he knew was forbidden by law to perform.”

As Lake Forest’s top administrator, Kiely was the second-highest paid city manager in the state and out-earned all 50 U.S. governors. In fiscal year 2018, he earned nearly $250,000 in total compensation, including salary, benefits and other allowances.

Kiely’s misconduct charge comes more than a year after the Lake Forest City Council appointed a special counsel to investigate the former city manager’s questionable fund transfers. In March 2018, special counsel Leigh Jeter issued a report finding Kiely in violation of three city codes for inappropriately laundering public funds through the city attorney’s private law firm in a bid to secure funding for a proposed Amtrak stop many residents opposed.

Despite little public support, Kiely and other city administrators had been pushing for the construction of a new Amtrak stop and accompanying pedestrian underpass since 2012. An Illinois Policy Institute analysis in 2018 found that cost estimates had ballooned by more than 400%. In 2012, the city estimated that construction costs would range between “a low of $1.8 million to a high of $2.5 million.” But by 2016, an independent assessment pegged the cost at over $13 million.

Jeter’s report noted Kiely’s decision to route the funds first through former Lake Forest City Attorney Victor Filippini’s private law practice and then to the lobbying firm was highly unusual, and that the process allowed the payments to go undetected by city aldermen, who are supposed to authorize such fund transfers.

The report suggested that Filippini should have counseled Kiely to inform council members of the transactions once payments exceeded $20,000, the threshold at which further payments must be approved by the City Council.

In March 2018, Jeter recommended the city take “appropriate action” against Kiely and Filippini. The city attorney resigned the following month after the Lake Forest City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring its opposition to construction of the Amtrak train stop.

“For once we’re on the same page with the residents,” Ald. Melanie Rummel, 2nd Ward, told the Daily North Shore at the time.

Kiely announced his retirement three months later.

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