Feds show interest in suburban bookkeeper

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Joseph Letke briefly ran for the state Senate seat once held by the Rev. James Meeks.

But across the suburbs Letke is better known as a bookkeeper for local governmental agencies, over the years doing work for Monee, Franklin Park and many other towns.

We’ve learned that in recent months federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to municipal governments in Dolton, Riverdale and Robbins seeking contracts, invoices, cancelled checks and other documents relating to Letke and two of his south suburban companies.

Letke had been the comptroller in Riverdale and Robbins and performed financial audits in Dolton, but he no longer works with those towns.

These days, he’s the comptroller in Harvey and Markham, meaning he oversees the accounting of taxpayer funds, and one of his firms handles the finances for a south suburban water agency that’s also funded by taxpayers.

The Dolton, Riverdale and Robbins grand jury subpoenas asked for, among other things, copies of engagement letters, internal notes and financial transfers from 2009 to present, according to interviews, and documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

It’s unclear whether Letke and his firms are targets, or tangential to a broader probe. However, two local government officials told us federal investigators have also questioned people about Letke’s operations. A U.S. attorney’s office spokesman declined to comment. Letke did not respond to numerous calls.

Letke was sued by Country Club Hills in 2012 for allegedly failing to complete a financial audit, despite being paid. Letke and one of his businesses also filed for bankruptcy in 2012, records show.

He and his companies have been politically active — donating nearly $100,000 over the years to campaign funds of many local politicians, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

In September, we reported that two Letke-led ventures had been paid more than $315,000 for financial consulting and accounting work under separate no-bid deals with the South Suburban Joint Action Water Agency.

Fed up with Chicago’s rising water rates, a group of south suburbs formed the agency and borrowed nearly $5.6 million in 2012 to study if and how they could build their own water supply system. That study is still incomplete, despite millions of taxpayer dollars having been spent.

A Bang Up Job

Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management is the public agency responsible for managing and maintaining roughly $1 billion in city assets — everything from squad cars and snow plows to municipal buildings.

Hired to watch over those assets — making sure they’re not lost, stolen or otherwise damaged — was, among others, Adam Burrell, a city “watchman.”

But he perhaps needed a little watching himself, as he crashed a city vehicle while on the clock, and was caught sleeping on the job at various times, according to city records and interviews.

Burrell crashed a city-owned 2006 Ford Escape into another city vehicle last September while driving around a city maintenance yard at 52nd and Western.

The city made Burrell, 55, submit to alcohol testing. According to the incident report, obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, “results showed positive for alcohol . . . [Burrell] did have some drinks before his shift at his son’s homecoming celebration but he did not feel it was a lot nor was he drunk.”

His blood-alcohol level was apparently somewhere below 0.08 — the limit at which it’s illegal to drive.

Burrell is no stranger to questionable behavior.

He’s been disciplined numerous times for sleeping on the job, according to city documents and interviews.

The city recently fired him after he was caught sleeping in April for the eighth time since 2011. (He was fired after our inquiries, but a city official said our questions didn’t prompt the termination.)

And what took so long if this is all true?

“Since January 2012 the department has used progressive discipline, including suspensions without pay, to address instances of unacceptable behavior by Mr. Burrell,” Eve Rodriguez, a city spokeswoman, said via email. “Mr. Burrell’s supervisor observed him sleeping on duty again on April 27, 2014 which resulted in the department proceeding to the next step of progressive discipline, termination, on May 28, 2014.”

Burrell, who makes roughly $20 an hour with the city, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, another watchman with a similar history of problems —  a crash with a city vehicle and allegations of sleeping on the job —  also is in the process of being fired, according to the city.

This column was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter and Patrick Rehkamp. They can be reached at aschroedter@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9035.

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