Former superintendent facing embezzlement and wire fraud charges
Lawrence Wyllie is accused of stealing public funds and using school district money for dog obedience schools.
A former Illinois school district superintendent is in hot water over allegations that he stole $80,000 from Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, used his school district’s money on a dog obedience school, and falsely claimed the state had shortchanged the district $5 million, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Lawrence Wyllie faces five counts of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement, the Sun-Times has reported. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and a possible 10-year prison sentence for embezzlement.
Federal authorities allege that the former superintendent lied in 2009, when Wyllie cried poor to the tune of $5 million, claiming that the state wasn’t keeping up on its payments to District 210, according to the Sun-Times.
District 210 extended Wyllie’s contract in 2010, citing his good fiscal management. However, federal authorities claim that Wyllie simply moved money around, using $7 million in bond funds meant for capital expenses to fund operating costs, including $1 million toward payroll, the Sun-Times reports. Wyllie allegedly resorted to various financial tricks in order to make District 210 seem more fiscally sound than it really was, including shifting money between bank accounts and reclassifying expenses.
Wyllie began his Illinois education career in 1959 and retired in 2013, at the age of 74, with a final average salary of $262,000. His pension started at $290,000 annually. Due to his position, his pay and the length of his service, Wyllie collected the biggest pension in the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System as of August 2016. In 2017, he collected more than $320,000 in pension benefits.
Assuming Wyllie achieves his anticipated life expectancy, it’s estimated he’ll collect more than $4 million over the course of his retirement.
Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, Illinoisans should stay on their toes. The Land of Lincoln’s reputation for corruption is backed up by several high-profile cases, as well as academic studies. A 2014 study by Indiana University and the University of Hong Kong ranked Illinois as the fourth-most corrupt state in the United States.
In addition to costing an arm and a leg for taxpayers, Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation number of local governments, including school districts, also makes it difficult to hold government accountable and lends itself to a lack of transparency. Illinois has nearly 7,000 units of local government, which often drag their feet on responding to Freedom of Information Act requests seeking government documents – with little real consequence.
Illinois also has a high number of school districts – more than 850, the fifth-most in the nation. And 44 percent of those school districts only administer one or two schools.
This high number of school districts drives up local costs by forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for pricey school district administrators and the support staff they require to run the district. If Illinois cut the number of school districts in half, the state could save $130 million to $170 million in operations costs annually and could easily save $3 billion to $4 billion in retirement costs over 30 years.
Wyllie’s case and others like it should remind Illinoisans to always keep one eye on government officials and one hand on their wallets.