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More trouble for East Chicago library board

The library board in East Chicago, Indiana, is under legal scrutiny for making health and life insurance payments for board members between 2008 and 2010. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says the law is clear: Library board members in Indiana must serve without compensation. So, he is suing to get six board members to pay back more than $180,000. 

It’s just the latest in a series of lawsuits or legal challenges against officials for unethical spending practices within the library system and in East Chicago government, as well.

“This seems to be a constant theme in the city of East Chicago. There’s an open question about whether things have been done incorrectly for so long that maybe they don’t know the right way,” Zoeller said Wednesday. “But I do know it’s my job to pursue the collection of these funds and that’s what I intend to do.”

Zoeller filed his lawsuit in Lake County Superior Court on Tuesday.

The suit names board members and the amount they are asked to reimburse: Diana Garcia-Burns, $642.60; Hector Cavazos, $27,965.53; Chasidy Gomez, $44,686.90; Clifton Johnson, $52,686.26; Gary McCracken, $24,604.76; and Aldolfo Velez, $31,673.49.

Two other library board members, Marco Arredondo and Ricardo Garcia, have agreed to repay illegal insurance benefits. They were not named in the lawsuit, according to the attorney general’s office.

“The lawsuit is part of my office’s effort to aggressively take legal action against officials who violate the public trust when they spend taxpayers’ money as if it were their own,” Zoeller said.

Zoeller is also going after the library system’s former director, Manuel “Manny” Montalvo, for $12,000 in unauthorized expenses uncovered in an audit conducted by the Indiana State Board of Accounts. .

Zoeller said the audit revealed numerous unauthorized expenditures made by Montalvo for non-library business while he was director of the East Chicago Public Library, including trips to the Puerto Rican Gala Day in New York City and a conference in Puerto Rico. Auditors also questioned expenses for repairs to Montalvo’s personal vehicle.

Montalvo had all of his assets frozen last month by a Northwest Indiana judge at the request of Zoeller’s office. Zoeller cited a public-accountability law passed by Indiana lawmakers in 2009, which he says gives him the authority to secure repayment by freezing Montalvo’s assets. A judge later eased up on Montalvo, so he is now allowed to pay personal expenses and sell a home. Proceeds from a property sale could allow Montalvo to pay the state.
Last year, a Cook County court convicted Montalvo for misdemeanor charges of battery and disorderly conduct following a Cubs game.

Montalvo was fired as library director last month by a reconstituted board.

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