Alleged misuse of credit card leads official to resign Tuesday

Alleged misuse of credit card leads official to resign Tuesday

URBANA — Champaign County's supervisor of assessments, who had led the office for less than four months, resigned Tuesday amid an investigation into the improper use of a county credit card.

Joe Meents, appointed the interim supervisor of assessments in September and named the permanent supervisor in November, handed in his resignation Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with a number of other county officials, including State's Attorney Julia Rietz, Auditor John Farney, Treasurer Dan Welch, county board chairwoman Pattsi Petrie, county board member James Quisenberry and County Administrator Deb Busey.

Meents used his county-issued credit card to purchase about $4,000 in items for personal use, according to the officials. Among the purchases were gasoline, groceries, gifts and football tickets.

The purchases began Sept. 26, said County Auditor John Farney, only six days after Meents took office.

He already has paid back the money, Rietz said.

"There's absolutely no expense to the county because he has paid back every penny that he spent on the county's credit card, and we're not going to have to go through the process that would be required of having to remove him," she said. "So there's really no expense at all."

The Illinois State Police is completing its investigation, Rietz said, and any criminal prosecution will be handled by a special prosecutor.

"Because I've been involved in advising Mrs. Busey and the county board about how to deal with the employment aspects of this situation, I thought it was appropriate to ask for a special prosecutor," the state's attorney said.

Champaign County Presiding Judge Tom Difanis has appointed the state's appellate prosecutor's office in Springfield to handle possible criminal charges, Rietz said.

"They will be made aware of all of the issues, including the fact that the credit card has been paid off and that he has resigned, and it will be up to them as to whether there are any criminal charges," she said.

Meents, who was paid $73,152 a year as head of the county's assessment office, had worked in the office for about 20 years. He became supervisor after the office's longtime leader, Stan Jenkins, stepped down to take a job with the state Department of Revenue.

Meents became permanent supervisor after the county board, acting upon the recommendation of Petrie and other members of a search committee, backed him over two other applicants: Erich Blair and John Shoopmann, both of Kankakee County.

In the 30-minute meeting with county officials Tuesday afternoon, Rietz said, Meents "was very apologetic and remorseful. He had paid everything back prior to the meeting. He accepted responsibility and he did not want the county to be embarrassed or further burdened by his decisions."

As to why Meents had used the credit card for personal use, she said "it was clearly poor judgment on his part.

"Oftentimes in these situations someone does something once and then they do it again and it becomes easy and they do it again and again, fully intending perhaps to pay it back at the end. But obviously this is a violation of county policy and it's something that we can't let go."

Farney said his office, acting on a tip, discovered irregularities in financial reports.

"That led us to see some patterns that certain reoccurring charges weren't getting paid, and we decided to investigate further," the auditor said. "There are certain bills that got paid every month on the Visa bill and then all of a sudden the Visa bill stopped coming to my office."

Farney said they caught the irregularities within one bill cycle.

"We took that information to the state's attorney and the state's attorney took it to the state police," Farney said.

The supervisor of assessments oversees the eight-employee office responsible for determining property assessments in the county.

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capt80 wrote on January 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

At least someone was paying attention here, unlike Dixon, IL. 

Jimi Stuart wrote on January 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Why did it take four months for the auditor to find out? Ah, yes, a tip. This is different from Dixon in degree, but not in kind.