Listen to this article

Issue of turning over guardianship to gain more funding for college must be addressed.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week ordered a thorough investigation into one of the latest scams involving the misuse of tax dollars, as well he should have.

“It’s terrible. There are more people applying for Monetary Assistance Program money than there are dollars that we could provide. So if people are defrauding the system, these wealthy parents are literally committing fraud here, we need to go find them, root it out and make sure those dollars go to the right people,” he said.

Pritzker was responding to news reports indicating that some parents are turning over guardianship of their children to relatives or friends. That way those children can claim financial independence in order to qualify for more tuition aid and scholarships than they might otherwise have received.

In other words, by gaming the system, some parents minimize their financial exposure for the cost of their children’s education by shifting it to taxpayers.

“We want (financial aid) to go to the students who are most in need, not the people who are defrauding the system,” Pritzker said.

This kind of maneuver — a guardianship transfer purely for financial reasons — would appear on its face to be a deliberate breaking of the rules.

But a lawyer with one law firm that has handled multiple guardianship transfers of this nature states the law permits it.

“It’s a solution they have been able to find as college costs go up and (parents) are unable to pay. It is in the best interest of the minor, which is the statute’s purpose,” said Mari Berlin, a lawyer with the Kabbe Law Group in Naperville.

Indeed, legal papers in Lake County guardianship cases cite the financial benefit of establishing a guardian.

“The guardian can provide educational and financial support and opportunities that her parents could not otherwise provide,” one petition states.

The problem, of course, is that it’s the taxpayers, not the guardian, who are providing financial benefits to the child. The guardian is simply a legal fiction created to gain greater access to public dollars.

This maneuver was unearthed by ProPublica Illinois, a public interest news reporting organization.

It reports finding dozens of guardianship cases in Lake County over the past 18 months and said “similar petitions have been filed in at least five other counties,” and “the practice may be happening throughout the country.”

If it isn’t now, it surely will be soon unless official steps are taken to stamp out this tawdry practice. ProPublica Illinois identified upper-income earners as the beneficiaries of this practice, “lawyers, a doctor and an assistant schools superintendent, as well as insurance and real estate agents.”

“A number of these children are high-achieving scholars, athletes and musicians who attend or have been accepted to a range of universities,” ProPublica Illinois reported.

It will surprise no one that some of these students wish to attend or are attending the University of Illinois.

Andy Borst, undergraduate admissions director at the UI, called the practice a “scam” that is “taking away opportunities from families that really need it.”

He said the UI has identified 14 applicants who engaged in this practice — three who recently completed their freshman year and another 11 who will enroll in the fall.

Borst told ProPublica that the UI told the three current students that their financial aid package would be reduced and “didn’t hear any complaints.”

“... That also is a red flag. If they were needy, they would have come in to talk with us,” he said.

It’s unsurprising that upper-income earners have been identified as abusers. After all, they can afford to obtain top legal advice and solicit the opinions of high-quality financial advisers.

It’s also unsurprising that they would pursue a practice that offers financial savings. After all, people respond to incentives.

But there’s more to it than that. Illinois is a state that is politically corrupt to its very core. So it wouldn’t be hard for families to ask themselves why they shouldn’t engage in legal trickery when this state’s public officials constantly feather their own financial nests.

After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Why not grab with both hands?

Nonetheless, this practice must be brought to a quick end. If there has been fraud perpetrated on the courts, there must be consequences. Corrupt practices like this cannot be tolerated.