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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Audits Didn’t Catch Decade of Theft by Clerk

CHICAGO (CN) - With its former clerk sentenced to 18 months in prison for swiping $685,000, the village of Burnham, Ill., has asked a court to make its accountants foot the bill.

For a town the size of Burnham, $685,000 is a "significant" amount of money, and the audits "should have identified it early on," Devon Bruce, an attorney for the village with Power, Rogers & Smith, said in an interview.

Burnham, pop. 4,500, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against two Illinois businesses, O'Neill and Gaspardo, of Mokena, the Walker Group, of Ottawa.

Nancy Dobrowski had been Burnham's village clerk for 24 years when in 2004 she began appropriating fees, fines and car-tow bonds turned over to her by the police department,

For the next nine years, she "used the village's stolen money to spend on gambling boats in Indiana or deposited the money into her personal bank accounts," the complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court states.

An FBI investigation ultimately led Dobrowski to plead guilty to wire fraud and falsifying her federal tax returns. At age 70, Dubrowski was sentenced last year to 18 months in jail, plus restitution.

Burnham says its accounting firms "made material representations" in claiming to have found no irregularities in village accounts during annual audits.

The Walker Group performed an audit of 2006, and O'Neill and Gaspardo audited the village between 2007 and 2010, according to the lawsuit.

When reached for comment on the lawsuit, a representative with O'Neill and Gaspardo said it did not have anyone available for an interview.

Mike Walker of the Walker Group meanwhile said his firm has not had any business with Burnham.

Burnham's complaint alleges that the firms had a duty to "examine and investigate any questionable or suspicious invoice or expenditure."

Because Sobrowski was stealing tow funds, "the amounts of money collected by the police department and the amount of money ultimately deposited in [its] records did not reconcile," the complaint states.

At the time of Dobrowski's sentencing, the Chicago Tribune reported that she falsified entries in Burnham's books, delayed deposits and provided falsified financial information to outside auditors to cover up her theft.

Dobrowski used the money to feed her gambling addiction, and spent so much time at Indiana casinos that they comped her often.

Burnham Mayor Robert Polk remarked at Dobrowski's sentence hearing that he was "stunned" his colleague could be "so deceptive," according to the Tribune.

Dobrowski meanwhile told the court; "I feel like everybody hates me for what I did. ... I am so sorry I let the people that I loved so much and the village down."

Bruce, who also represented Dolton, Ill., in its civil case against former comptroller Rita Crundwell, says embezzlers are often entrenched in their positions for decades and begin taking a little bit, increasing over time.

Crundwell reportedly stole more than $54 million from Dolton.

In Burnham, Dobrowski's skimming left village police and fire departments unable to pay for new radios and gas, and payments to vendors for the village became late, affecting services, the Tribune reported.

Burnham accuses the accounting firms of professional negligence and negligent misrepresentation.

"We made the city of Dixon whole and we intend to do the same for Burnham," attorney Bruce said.

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