Jim Dey: Former DCFS leader's wounds self-inflicted

Jim Dey: Former DCFS leader's wounds self-inflicted

George Sheldon was a big man in Florida — a prominent lawyer, former state legislator, state and federal child services director and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2014.

But none of that helped him when he accepted Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's offer in January 2015 to run the problem-ridden Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Less than two years later, the 70-year-old Sheldon was on the ropes, prompting the following headline in a Florida newspaper: "Embattled George Sheldon Likely Skedaddling Back to Florida."

The headline was right on the money.

Today, Sheldon is in charge of a nonprofit organization, Our Kids, while DCFS is being run by its ninth director or acting director over the past five years.

Sheldon's wounds at DCFS were mostly self-inflicted, with a recent state inspector general's report outlining a series of curious business and personnel decisions involving associates in Florida.

But he also was done in by another of the agency's failures, this one leading to the death of a 17-month-old child in Will County.

DCFS had conducted multiple child-abuse investigations at the residence where Samaj Crosby lived before she was found dead in April under suspicious conditions.

Under the best of circumstances, DCFS has an extremely difficult job. Under the worst circumstances, its work is borderline impossible.

Despite that, Sheldon won praise for his management skills. One news report said he was "adroit at tapping federal funds and brought tens of millions of new dollars into Illinois by clearing away bureaucratic tangles."

Even as Sheldon was leaving under a cloud, Rauner praised his stewardship.

Rauner described DCFS as in "shambles from a lack of leadership and direction" when he took office and said Sheldon presided over "an impressive transformation to ensure we are protecting the state's most vulnerable children."

Sheldon himself said he left DCFS "a little better than when I found it" but that "there's a long way to go." Sheldon also described the DCFS report examining instances of "mismanagement" as "fair" while saying he had "no reservations about the work we did in Illinois."

What did Sheldon do wrong?

The inspector general's report listed multiple examples of the department, under Sheldon's leadership, providing business associates and former political supporters with economic opportunities.

DCFS gave one Florida firm an $800,000 consulting contract that included a close Sheldon friend, Christopher Pantaleon, as a $30,000 subcontractor. The two men had purchased two homes together, apparently for investment purposes, and Pantaleon had worked for Sheldon's political campaigns and as a spokesman for the Florida DCFS when Sheldon ran it.

Sheldon failed to disclose his business relationship with Pantaleon before the contract was awarded.

DCFS also gave a former Sheldon campaign consultant an unnecessary $35,000 contract to create public service announcements on child safety issues. The state's Department of Central Management Services typically creates public service announcements.

Sheldon also brought Florida associates to Illinois who, for good reasons or not, created bureaucratic waves that led to allegations of misconduct.

Of those hires, the most curious was Sheldon's decision to offer a personal services contract to 27-year-old Igor Anderson, a man Sheldon said he met "through a mutual friend," the IG report states.

The report states that Anderson signed his state contract on Sept. 28, 2015 and was terminated in Feb. 12, 2016. The report reveals that, in addition to hiring Anderson, Sheldon gave him cash gifts and took Anderson with him on at least two trips.

The report makes only oblique references to Anderson's professional and personal activities. News coverage of the IG's report either tip-toed around or completely ignored the subject altogether.

"DCFS has a policy that prohibits supervisors from having certain types of relationships with subordinates. However, Director Sheldon denied having such a relationship with Anderson," the IG report states in footnote 15 on page 7 of the 38-page report.

Anderson was on the state payroll for about three months, and one of his duties was to serve as Sheldon's driver — even though his driver's license was suspended as the result of a Florida DUI arrest.

Anderson also was faulted for falsifying hours (he was paid $25 an hour) that he worked. The IG report said the state is seeking a $1,326 reimbursement from Anderson for the misreported hours.

Among those occasions when Anderson sought to be improperly paid was Oct. 10-11, 2015. He reported that he worked seven hours over those two days, but he acknowledged to investigators that "he and Director Sheldon went to Saugatuck, Michigan in a state car and stayed at a hotel or townhouse rented by Director Sheldon for personal reasons."

Sheldon acknowledged that driving a state car was a "violation," said the trip "did not relate to state business" and would not have approved Anderson's misreporting his work hours if he had been aware of it.

Sheldon also acknowledged making four cash payments to Anderson — $1,000 on Sept. 28, 2015; $500 on Oct. 15, 2015; $1,000 on April 29, 2016; and $500 on May 18, 2016.

"... Sheldon said Mr. Anderson asked him for the money, and he gave it to him because he felt sorry for Mr. Anderson," the report states.

The report quotes Sheldon as saying that his decision to hire Anderson was "stupid." Discussing the Anderson hiring with the Chicago Tribune, Sheldon said, "I have kind of a history of trying to give young people an opportunity."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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sweet caroline wrote on August 22, 2017 at 9:08 am

Jim...Jim...Jim.  The headline “Former DCFS leader’s wounds self-inflicted” sounds as though George Sheldon committed suicide! 

It’s not until paragraph 5 that we read “Sheldon's wounds at DCFS were mostly self-inflicted…”  A vastly different situation.  If he's guilty of the charges listed in your story, then he should be prosecuted and sentenced, but he’s not dead as your headline would implicate.

HowAboutThis wrote on August 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm

"I have a history of trying to give young people an opportunity." So Sheldon is going to continue to be a sugar daddy?