Crime & Courts

Former Illinois Railway Museum volunteer accused of stealing more than $28K by falsifying invoices

Longtime Illinois Railway Museum volunteer accused of falsifying invoices

The entrance to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union is seen Tuesday.
The entrance to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union is seen Tuesday.

A former Illinois Railway Museum volunteer has been charged with embellishing invoices paid by the nonprofit and pocketing thousands of overpaid dollars.

According to a 27-count criminal complaint filed in McHenry County court, 60-year-old Rod L. Turner was reimbursed for about $28,767 worth of supplies and services the organization never received.

The Union-based museum operates on about $1 million each year, not including the cost of equipment restoration projects, which largely are funded by donations, museum director and treasurer Nigel Bennett said in an email Tuesday.

"To the extent that the misappropriation was of donor-restricted funds, these have been made good," Bennett said.

Turner is accused of falsifying at least 26 invoices, purportedly from companies providing services such as steel and engine work from December 2015 to October 2016, the complaint shows.

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Turner declined to comment on the charges and said he has not yet hired an attorney.

Turner had been a volunteer at the museum for about 10 years, eventually becoming the curator of the organization's electrical car department, Bennett said.

His volunteer work came to a halt in November 2016, when museum staff learned of potentially misappropriated funds.

"In late 2016, the Illinois Railway Museum became aware of actions by a long-standing senior volunteer that raised the possibility that museum funds had been misappropriated," Bennett wrote in a statement. "In consultation with attorneys, forensic auditors were employed to investigate and document the suspect activities."

Out on bond, Turner made a court appearance Tuesday morning, when McHenry County Judge James Cowlin granted him one month to hire an attorney.

Turner, of the 300 block of East Palace Row, Geneseo, will be allowed to occasionally travel to Iowa for business.

The Illinois Railway Museum was founded in 1953 by 10 men who each contributed $100 to buy a rail car, according to the organization's website.

Owned and operated entirely by volunteers, the museum receives no state or federal money. All of the organization's operating costs are paid by individual donations and profits from ticket sales, according to the website.

In the past 60 years, the museum has acquired more than 400 pieces of equipment, including horse cars, steam locomotives and trolleys. Tickets grant visitors access to train rides and tours of exhibits.

Bennett said in the written statement that the organization relies heavily upon its volunteers, and it has established new procedures to reduce the risk of further theft. Moving forward, staff will enforce strict limits on amounts that can be paid by individuals and later reclaimed. They also will work toward better delegating responsibilities among volunteers, Bennett said.

"In this environment, it is natural to place a greater degree of trust in the volunteers than might be the case with employees of a commercial organization," the statement read. "Indeed, this is the first such incident of which we are aware in the 60-year history of the museum."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the timeline when Turner allegedly falsified invoices.

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