ALGONQUIN TOWNSHIP – Prosecutors are homing in on more than $260,000 in unexplained bonuses amid a wider probe into official misconduct during Bob Miller’s time at the Algonquin Township Highway Department.
The bonuses, characterized as miscellaneous pay, have been paid to employees since May 2013, according to a Northwest Herald investigation of payroll documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Township officials have no written policy explaining or supporting those payments – a detail that has the attorney who wrote the handbook for township officials concerned.
“If there are side payments and there is no accountability, we have no basis to measure whether it’s lawful,” said Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, an Ancel Glink attorney who co-authored The Township Officials of Illinois’ “Laws & Duties Handbook.” “I think they really need to tighten things up over there.”
The bonuses inside Miller’s highway department are one of the main pillars of a corruption probe churning inside the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, according to sources close to the investigation.
The bonuses are in payroll reports under a line item labeled “Misc.” Pay for regular hours, overtime, vacation, holidays and sick leave are listed as separate earnings. The flat payments ranged from $100 to $1,900 a period, according to payroll reports.
Miller’s highway department distributed the bulk of those payments, about $242,000, to employees from May 2013 to May 2017. Miller, who led the highway department for 24 years, lost in an upset in the 2017 election to Andrew Gasser. The first-term highway commissioner has continued the payments on a smaller scale, but said he put policies in place to codify the pay practices.
A review of payroll records over the nine months between May 15, when Gasser took office, and Feb. 13 revealed that nine highway department employees received more than $21,000 in miscellaneous pay. The payments came in increments of $100, $350, $450, $700 and $800.
Gasser said he instituted a policy to compensate employees for being on call for snowplowing work during the winter months. Workers are paid a $350 stipend every two weeks from November to March under terms of the policy, he said. Further, one employee is on call every week to handle road emergencies. That person gets a $100 stipend for each on-call week, Gasser said.
Gasser said he was unaware of the on-call and winter pay policies of his predecessor.
“I see no policies for any miscellaneous pay,” Gasser said.
The Northwest Herald requested a copy of the pay policies Gasser said he implemented. He didn’t provide them.
In response to a previous Freedom of Information Act records request seeking an official description of miscellaneous payments on payroll records, Gasser wrote: “The highway department has no records of Misc payouts.”
Miller declined to comment, but his attorney, Tom Gooch, explained how miscellaneous payouts worked.
“The miscellaneous payments included the bonuses employees were paid at various times of the year,” Gooch said. “They were also paid for special projects over and above what they were expected to do and beyond their normal working hours.”
Those special projects included concrete inspection, recycling detail, streetlight inspection and attendance at Algonquin Township events, such as “Touch A Truck.”
Other Algonquin Township officials have been unable – or unwilling – to explain the policies that dictated the payouts.
“I had no knowledge of what these payments were for when I was clerk,” said Algonquin Township Supervisor Charles Lutzow, who served as clerk across the hall from the highway commissioner for four years. “It wasn’t discussed at meetings.”
James Kelly, Algonquin Township’s attorney, declined to comment on the miscellaneous pay.
Prosecutors are investigating allegations of official misconduct over nearly a decade at the Algonquin Township Highway Department, according to documents reviewed by the Northwest Herald and confirmed by multiple sources close to the probe.
Bob Miller, who served as highway commissioner for 24 years, was the subject of a grand jury investigation into official misconduct related to road district spending over the past decade. He has not been charged with a crime.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally declined to comment. Several township and highway department sources said an investigator from the prosecutor’s office recently questioned road district employees about the miscellaneous payments.
The Northwest Herald examined payroll records spanning four years between May 2013 and May 2017 to search for some insight into the grand jury’s inquiry.
Those records showed Bob Miller’s two sons-in-law earned nearly $55,000 in miscellaneous pay between them during that time.
Derek Lee – the husband of Bob Miller’s daughter, Rebecca Lee, and the former highway commissioner’s foreman – received $30,335. Andrew Rosencrans – another highway department employee who married Bob Miller’s daughter, Mallory – received $24,485.
Anna May Miller, the former highway commissioner’s wife and secretary, received $29,090 in miscellaneous pay during that time. Those bonuses were in addition to the $238,788 she banked working for $30 an hour in her husband’s office – and the $53,590 for 1,211 hours of overtime she earned from 2013 to 2017.
In 2016 alone, Anna May Miller earned $9,250 in miscellaneous pay. The irregular payments appeared in 15 increments of $200, $250, $350, $500, $750, $850, $1,000 and $1,750.
In total, Anna May Miller earned $360,952 over four years.
Anna May Miller could not be reached to comment. Steve Brody, her attorney, declined to comment because of a pending criminal investigation.
Bob Miller’s attorney, Tom Gooch, dismissed the scrutiny as a political maneuver to tarnish the name of his client. Bob Miller and his wife have held influential political positions for decades.
“The witch hunt is getting a little ridiculous,” Gooch said. “He did not just give money away to give it away.”
The story of one bonus payout
Karen Lukasik drove a bus for the Algonquin Township Highway Department before she took office as clerk.
On Dec. 12, 2016, a few months before she was elected, Lukasik got a check from the highway department for $183 for 12 hours of work driving a busload of seniors to a Christmas music program.
Her check included a little extra: $250.
A bonus, she said, for going “above and beyond” what she was expected to do.
“Anything the bus drivers would do extra, Bob would pay,” Lukasik said.
It is unclear how highway department workers reported when they would go “above and beyond” the scope of their duties. Lukasik said she did not file any reports to Bob Miller about her extra work with the seniors during the highway department’s busy holiday season.
“I would tell Anna if I did stuff,” Lukasik said.
Other highway departments
Highway commissioners in neighboring townships said miscellaneous payments are uncommon.
“I am not aware of anybody doing it that way,” McHenry Township Highway Commissioner James Condon said. His employees get paid overtime, and stipends do not exist. “We do not do that.”
Nunda Township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance said he pays his employees overtime and grants a $200-a-year clothing allowance – but bonuses or stipends are not handed out inside his road district, he said:
“We don’t do that at Nunda.”
Lesperance, who pays Bob Miller $40 an hour as a consultant inside the Nunda Township Highway Department, defended the former Algonquin Township highway commissioner.
“Bob Miller is the Tom Brady of township government,” Lesperance said. “There’s never been anybody that did a better job at being a road commissioner than Bob Miller.”
To Lesperance, the investigation into Bob Miller’s pay practices is a political conspiracy.
“There is a conspiracy to defame township government,” he said. “If they can take out the head of township government, which for a long time was Bob Miller, and put a nut job like Andrew Gasser in there to do absurd things over and over and over again, it’s all a concerted effort to make townships look bad in order to get rid of townships.”
Conspiracy or not, one expert said the miscellaneous pay seems suspicious.
“There are responsibilities that come with handling taxpayer dollars,” Krafthefer said. “These payments seem arbitrary, unreasonable and unsupported by documents to legitimately show they were tied to a public purpose.”