Plea deal drops felony against former Lake Forest city manager who pushed for Amtrak stop
Hiding lobbyist payments led to a felony indictment in October against Lake Forest’s longtime former city manager. His plea bargain drops the felony and could eventually leave his record clean.
A plea deal may allow one of Illinois’ highest-paid and Lake Forest’s longest-serving local officeholder to avoid becoming a felon, serving jail time or possibly even having a record.
On Feb. 25, former Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely pleaded guilty to one count of attempted official misconduct following an investigation into unauthorized payments Kiely made to a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. That guilty plea came as part of a plea bargain that reduces the charge to a misdemeanor and will allow the court to eventually choose whether to dismiss the charge altogether, according to the Lake Forester.
The court has six months to determine whether Kiely qualifies for an alternative prosecution program, which would relieve the former city administrator of the charge and the possibility of jail time. The agreement will also require Kiely to perform 15 hours of community service, donate $1,000 to charity and submit a written apology.
In October, a Lake County grand jury originally charged Kiely with one Class 3 felony count of attempted official misconduct, which could have come with a jail sentence of up to one year and a $2,500 fine.
The indictment came more than a year after the Lake Forest City Council appointed a special counsel to investigate nearly $200,000 in obscured fund transfers Kiely made through the city attorney and to the D.C.-based lobbying firm between 2016 and 2017.
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 pay lobbyists to secure funding for a proposed Amtrak stop. Many residents opposed the proposal.
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. 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 council members.
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.
The indictment accused Kiely of abusing his office by engaging in behavior “he knew was forbidden by law to perform.”
Kiely announced his retirement three months later.
Kiely was Lake Forest’s top administrator for nearly 30 years – from November 1990 to January 2019, the role’s longest tenure in city history. He 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.
The court must decide whether Kiely meets the requirements for an alternative prosecution program. He had maintained that the indictment against him had no merit.