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Mistaken donation ignites controversy in Grafton Twp.

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HUNTLEY – A $1,000 donation made in error to Grafton Township’s food pantry has turned controversial, causing Supervisor Linda Moore to claim that a public request for a refund may have been politically motivated.

The controversy erupted last week when Sun City resident Gerald LaBonte asked the township board during its monthly meeting to refund the $1,080 his neighborhood donated to the Grafton Township Food Pantry by mistake.

LaBonte, who was elected by his neighbors to represent his Sun City neighborhood, told the board that the donation was meant for the nonprofit Grafton Food Pantry because the organization has more purchasing power from its partnership with the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

The volunteer, he said, wasn’t aware that two food pantries existed in Grafton Township.

The neighborhood holds a semiannual fundraiser for the Grafton Food Pantry each fall in October. He said he made Moore aware of the mistake Nov. 5, but was told that the checks were already cashed and going to a good cause.

“What are the ethical values of a person who received money and found out that it was given to you by mistake and then says, ‘I’m not giving it back?’ ” LaBonte said.

Moore stated in a news release Monday that the money likely would be refunded, nearly two months after LaBonte said he spoke with Moore about the error.

Moore said LaBonte, “a self-appointed spokesman” on the issue, did request a neighborhood refund during last week’s board meeting. But she denied in the release that she knew about the mistake in the fall.

“No one told us that at the time,” Moore said in the release. “Due to the timing of Mr. LaBonte’s comments, it is hoped this is not a political move, what with the Republican primary election coming up Feb. 26, 2013.”

Moore is running against Huntley Trustee Pam Fender and attorney Marty Waitzman in the primary contest. Both challengers have said they decided to run to end the dysfunction in Grafton that has defined Moore’s tenure.

But when asked about the Nov. 5 conversation with LaBonte in a conversation with the Northwest Herald on Wednesday, Moore said the two did speak about the donation mistake. She said her lawyer advised her not to refund the money.

“What else can I do but follow legal advice?” she said.

But Moore couldn’t recall why her lawyer gave permission to refund the money, nearly two months after being told she couldn’t refund the money.

“My lawyer changed his mind,” she said.

LaBonte said he was insulted Moore would turn this issue into political gamesmanship. He said he has never voted in a Grafton Township election, and that he didn’t even know the names of the Grafton trustees until weeks before approaching them about a refund.

He said the refund procedure Moore’s lawyer detailed in a letter sent to him Jan. 12 is cumbersome for his neighbors, who have to submit proof of payment and have it verified before receiving a refund.

“For me, she has turned a simple request to return money into a legal problem,” LaBonte said. “Why turn to a lawyer? I don’t understand it.”

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