Latest corruption indictments handed down in 'Operation Cookie Jar' probe
Six former public education employees from the Chicagoland area are now facing corruption charges.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced on Wednesday the latest round of indictments stemming from Operation Cookie Jar, an initiative by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office aimed at stomping out local corruption.
Alvarez said the indictments may not turn into the most high-profile cases but are especially egregious because they involve stealing funds from local schools.
“A theft is a theft, and it has an impact,” Alvarez said. “Maybe the amount isn’t that large but it has a big impact on local governments.”
Six charged in probe
Those charged include Alex Boyd, a former Superintendent of West Harvey Dixmoor School District 147. Boyd is charged with misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars of district funds and using a district credit card to buy personal items including alcohol and groceries. In total, prosecutors say Boyd misappropriated approximately $500,000.
Mable Chapman, who served as the secretary for the District 147 Board of Education, has also been charged. Alvarez said Chapman assisted Boyd by signing off on many of his transactions, and in exchange, Boyd allegedly used the district credit card to buy Chapman airline tickets for vacations and to visit relatives.
Louis James, the former Manager of Sports Administration for Chicago Public Schools, is accused of using taxpayer money to buy some unusual things. Alvarez said James would forge school invoices to get school checks and then use those checks to buy expensive items at various retail stores.
Alvarez said James would then return some of those items and pocket the cash or use store credit at places like Costco to buy items which included “champagne, flowers, chocolates, condoms and a king-sized mattress.”
Carol Howley, a former professor at City Colleges of Chicago, allegedly lied about earning a doctorate degree to get a higher salary. Natatia Trotter-Gordon was the former Director of Business and Industry at Kennedy-King College in Chicago. According to a statement from the State’s Attorney’s office, Trotter-Gordon is accused of depositing $51,000 worth of checks from participants of a Spanish program she coordinated for the school.
The last former public education employee indicted on Wednesday was Sonia Lopez. Lopez was a teaching assistant at Thurgood Marshall Middle School where her duties included paying bills and collecting student fees. Lopez is accused of issuing more than $21,000 worth of checks to herself, according to the statement.
Sending a message
Alvarez said school districts around Illinois are currently “cash-strapped” and added continuing budget cuts make “these crimes even more appalling.”
“The theft of public money by individuals who are in positions of public trust is always egregious, but the theft of money from schools is absolutely outrageous,” Alvarez said. “The ultimate victims are our children.”
Alvarez said the charges were a result of both internal investigations and also tips coming from the public.
Since Operation Cookie Jar launched in 2010, the corruption probe has led to 27 people being charged.