Chicago has its own brand of rancid politics and governance, one that prominently features suspicious hiring practices and is known as “the Chicago Way.”
So, too, does the state of Illinois, as recently reflected in a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois.
It concerns an alleged thief, 57-year-old Candace Wanzo of Centralia, who worked in a supervisor’s post for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office in Springfield.
Wanzo was indicted June 4 on a variety of charges alleging that between 2008 and 2017, she defrauded taxpayers of nearly $350,000 — roughly $300,000 from Secretary of State Jesse White’s office and another $50,000 from the Illinois Department of Revenue.
The circumstances of her alleged criminality in White’s office are odd. But what’s really odd about Wanzo is how she was hired to her well-compensated position of trust in the first place.
Before going to work in White’s office, Wanzo pleaded guilty to the theft of $233,000 from Southern Illinois University, where she was an assistant cashier in the bursar’s office.
Wanzo was hired in the secretary of state’s office in 1999, working there until she was escorted from her office in Springfield’s Howlett Building in 2017 as investigators prepared to search it.
They discovered a treasure trove of evidence indicating that Wanzo used her position to enrich herself.
The Illinois Times, which looked into the case, reported in an investigative piece that investigators found in Wanzo’s office $155,000 in un-cashed checks and money orders made out to the state, as well as 700 sets of license plates.
As an administrator and supervisor in vehicle services, Wanzo was responsible for operations at the Public Service Center, a facility where the U.S. Attorney’s office said “vehicle owners may pay title and registration fees, apply and pay for license plates and make sales tax statements.”
Authorities alleged she stole “title and registration and sales tax payments,” covering up the thefts by “replacing stolen funds with title and registration fees from other vehicle owners.”
To facilitate her thefts, Wanzo unilaterally “changed the SOS policy of not accepting cash” payments and directed subordinates to deliver to her at the end of the day whatever cash was collected. Wanzo also told subordinates to refer all customer complaints to her “in order to conceal the complaints from her superiors,” authorities allege in the indictment.
The record indicated what happened — a convicted thief was hired to a sensitive position in the secretary of state’s office — but not why.
Illinois Times reporter Bruce Rushton tried to find out, but White’s office rejected his Freedom of Information Act requests. He sought assistance from the attorney general, but officials there eventually stopped returning Rushton’s calls for statutorily provided assistance. Finally, the Times filed a FOIA lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court, where he won an order from the judge requiring the state to comply with the request.
White’s office continued to stall. But three years after Wanzo was escorted out of her office, the Times finally received a copy of her personnel file.
The file was more revealing for what was not in it than what was. There was no résumé and “no indication that any checks were done that would have uncovered her criminal past,” the Times reported.
Wanzo, obviously, held a position of influence. She not only unilaterally reversed the “no cash” policy, but facilitated the hiring of her daughter for three summers of employment.
Given the tawdry circumstances, it’s no great surprise that Wanzo’s boosters, whoever they are, are not taking credit for her hiring.
White’s office issued a statement saying the boss was “highly offended” by Wanzo’s conduct and commending federal prosecutors for filing criminal charges.
If taxpayers are bothered by how their money was treated in this case — and they probably are — here’s one more punch to the gut:
After being escorted out of office, Wanzo was placed on paid administrative leave, where she remained for a year at her $87,000 salary. Then, after being informed that the state planned to seek her dismissal, Wanzo, claiming ill health, submitted a letter of resignation, giving the state “29 days notice” and allowing her to “collect nearly a month of salary after submitting her resignation letter,” the Times reported.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.