Nancy Dobrowski, former long-time clerk for the Village of Burnham, was charged this week with stealing more than $650,000 from the tiny, financially beleaguered south suburb and using most of the money to gamble at casinos.
If you recall, the Better Government Association previously wrote about Dobrowski after she abruptly resigned last year on the same day FBI agents raided Burnham’s Village Hall.
At that time, Dobrowski had been at the center of a financial mess plaguing the municipality’s employees and residents. Many were concerned taxpayer money had gone missing after several irregularities began to show up on pay stubs and other documents.
Paychecks for village workers were arriving months late, and automatic payments set up through the village were severely delayed – problems that many in a struggling community of roughly 4,500 residents could not afford.
Read more: Burnham Bombshell
One employee fell behind in child support payments, even though the money had been taken out of his checks. And another woman fell several months behind in house payments because mortgage deductions, which were set up through the village, were not going through in time. That same woman also had a medical emergency only to find out that her health insurance had been canceled for the same reason: automatic payments were not going through.
Dobrowski, who had been the elected clerk for more than 30 years and was responsible for managing the village’s finances, spoke to the BGA last year about some of the problems and insisted that no money was missing.
“I’ve been here 32 years and I would never cheat anybody,” she told us in 2013. “I would never, ever do that.”
Now, we’re learning there’s more to the story.
From at least 2004 to 2013, Dobrowski allegedly stole money the village collected from the public as payments for fees. She allegedly used the money to gamble at casinos in Indiana and elsewhere. She tried to cover up the theft by delaying deposits and altering financial records, according to federal authorities.
In one alleged scheme, she would take cash from the village cash register and then to conceal it, Dobrowski would make weekly – instead of daily – deposits so that funds appeared to be balanced.
READ THE DOCUMENT: Burnham Charges
Dobrowski, 70, is expected to plead guilty to charges of wire fraud and filing a false federal income tax return, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. She could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $1.3 million. It’s unclear whether Burnham will ever recoup any money.
According to Burnham’s most recently filed annual financial report, the village’s general fund fell into the red in 2011 and its overall debt topped $1 million. However, the municipality’s full financial picture is not entirely clear as Dobrowski has also been accused of providing an outside audit firm with false information about the village’s revenues.
Dobrowski could not be reached for comment.
The situation in Burnham sounds awfully similar to the fraud that was uncovered in Downstate Dixon where the city’s long-time comptroller, Rita Crundwell, stole a whopping $54 million from taxpayers over the course of 20 years.
Both women had held their jobs for a very long time, and were well liked and trusted by others in town.
Both women also maintained the books and handled large amounts of money with little or no oversight.
If we’re learning anything from these two cases, it’s that internal safeguards and checks and balances need to be put in place within municipalities, no matter how small, so that taxpayers don’t get burned.
This blog entry was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Katie Drews, who can be reached at (312) 821-9027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.