Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ex-principal charged with stealing funds

Bravo to our Friends at Citizens for Responsible Government and Rich Conley. Well done. A special thanks to Richard Bryan retired school teacher. We need to see more current and retired teachers coming out to expose the inappropriate use of our school funds.

Ex-principal charged with stealing funds
By Bob Susnjara
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Thursday, December 01, 2005

An investigation into Warren Township High School finances that spanned almost a year ended Wednesday with the indictment of a former principal accused of misspending activity fund money on theater tickets.

Philip Roffman, the ex-principal who most recently led Gurnee-based Warren District 121’s Almond Road upperclass campus, was charged with one felony theft count. A conviction can result in a sentence ranging from probation to five years behind bars.

Roffman, 57, remains free on a $25,000 bench warrant and is to plead guilty as part of a negotiated deal Dec. 15 before Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti. He was a Warren principal for about 14 years until retiring in October 2004, shortly after the Daily Herald began investigating activity fund spending.

At issue was convenience accounts that draw money from District 121’s activity fund. Convenience account spending by adult school employees is required to have a student connection, such as pizzas for a sports team.

Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney George Strickland said Roffman illegally spent public money on Steppenwolf Theatre Co. tickets for friends and family in 2003. Roffman received a $400 reimbursement after submitting an activity fund form that falsely stated “theater tickets for teacher/staff.”

Roffman was not charged on other spending the state’s attorney’s office confirmed would have violated the law, said Strickland, who declined to elaborate. Those expenditures were detailed in a report filed in December 2004 by special investigator Daniel Field, an attorney who was hired by Warren after the activity fund questions surfaced.

Field wrote Roffman’s use of school money to purchase 17 handcrafted silk ties for $1,186.50 from Lee Allison Co. should be considered “illegal and improper.”

Roffman bought the ties Oct. 25, 2001, documents show. The purchase went unnoticed until it was discovered in documents obtained by the Daily Herald through Freedom of Information Act requests and confirmed by Lee Allison.

To justify having a check sent to Lee Allison, Roffman wrote “healthy communication supplies for fund-raiser” on a District 121 form.

Neither Roffman nor his lawyer, Patrick Tuite, returned calls Wednesday.

Field also found Roffman improperly used Warren activity funds to pay for calls to a telephone-sex line and an Internet sex-partner swapping club membership.

In a statement issued Wednesday, District 121 Superintendent Phil Sobocinski said he was saddened, but not surprised, by Roffman’s indictment. Warren provided documents going back at least 10 years to the state’s attorney’s office.

“It is important the Warren community understand the school district does not condone the behavior alleged in the indictment,” Sobocinski said.

“From the moment the board initiated its own investigation, we were on the record that the district would pursue all legal avenues to obtain restitution from any individuals convicted of misusing any school district funds.”

Working from Field’s report, state’s attorney’s office investigator Lou Archbold spent about 10 months combing through more than just Roffman’s activity fund spending at District 121.

Archbold also explored previous activity fund expenditures by retired Associate Principal Ron Shelton, ex-Athletic Director Lenny Chimino and others who were cited in Field’s report. Criminal charges only were leveled against Roffman.

“We examined all issues that were brought up in the Field report,” Strickland said. “We brought criminal charges that can be supported and are within the statute of limitations.”

Retired Warren High teacher Richard Bryan and Citizens for Responsible Government members in Gurnee were among those who brought concerns about activity fund spending to the attention of Warren officials.

Citizens for Responsible Government member Richard Conley expressed satisfaction after learning about Roffman’s indictment.

“As a citizen and as a member of the (tax watchdogs), I am just happy that the state’s attorney took our concerns seriously and investigated them fully,” Conley said.

Strickland credited District 121 officials for their cooperation in the investigation and said the Roffman indictment means the case is closed.

Four boxes of District 121 property were returned by Roffman last year, officials said. The haul included stereo speakers, compact-disk player, digital camera and a Dixie Chicks video.

Roffman has repaid Warren for some items, but will be asked to make further restitution for unauthorized expenditures, Strickland said.

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