'Coffee Fund' Latest: Eight NIU Employees Placed on Administrative Leave

Oct 22, 2012

Northern Illinois University has placed eight employees facing charges as a result of the 'coffee fund' investigation on administrative leave.  NIU said the action came "after a thorough review of state civil service statutes and regulations as well as university employment policies and practices."  The employees will continue to draw their regular salary while investigations into the fund by the NIU Police Department and the DeKalb County State's Attorney continue.

In a Monday, October 22, release the university says:

NIU administrators continue to cooperate with what has been labeled by the NIU police as an ongoing criminal investigation.  The university respects the States’ Attorney’s authority to investigate and bring charges and is mindful that each employee remains innocent until the adjudicatory process establishes otherwise.

Nine people were charged by the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, Oct. 16, as a result of the investigation. The ninth person, former associate vice president Robert Albanese, is no longer an employee of NIU.  Albanese resigned on July 31 after signing a separation agreement over "serious and substantial allegations of misconduct."

NIU Controller Keith Jackson turned himself  in Thursday morning, and Keenon Darlinger checked in Thursday afternoon. Both received a court date of Oct. 26. 

They join former associate vice president Robert Albanese, Lawrence Murray, Susan Zahm and Kenneth Pugh on that date. Mark Beaird, Michael Hall, and Joseph Alberti will appear Nov. 2.  All except Albanese are current NIU employees. Albanese left the university's Division of Finance and Facilities on July 31 after signing a separation agreement over "serious and substantial allegations of misconduct."

The employment status of Jackson, and the other charged employees is under review. His duties have been assumed by Interim Controller Barbara Seldal.

Wednesday, Oct.17: Northern Illinois University has hired an outside attorney to advise university officials as a result of an investigation into a hidden account. J. William Roberts, a former U.S. attorney and former state’s attorney in Sangamon County, has been retained to provide additional expertise to the president and Board of Trustees. The university also has named an interim controller.

Tuesday, Oct.16: DeKalb County State's Atty. Clay Campbell charges  nine present and former Northern Illinois University employees as part of a continuing investigation into the NIU "coffee fund."

The list includes former associate vice president Robert Albanese, Michael Hall, Lawrence Murray, Susan Zahm, Kenneth Pugh, Keenon Darlinger, Mark Beaird, Joseph Alberti and NIU Controller Keith Jackson. All except Albanese are current NIU employees. Albanese left the university's Division of Finance and Facilities on July 31 after signing a separation agreement over "serious and substantial allegations of misconduct."

The charges against the individuals include exerting "unauthorized control over property of Central Management Services," by selling scrap metal and keeping the proceeds in a private fund, rather than turning them over to CMS as required by state law.

Four on administrative leave

While four of the employees who have been charged are on administrative leave from the university, it is still to be determined what, if any, administrative action will be taken against the others. That's according to NIU spokesman Paul Palian. He says he expects more information about that by the end of the week.  Palian confirms that the four employees who were put on administrative leave in August are among those charged by the state's attorney.

Kathy Buettner, NIU Vice President for University Relations, speaking on behalf of the university, had this to say about the State's Attorney's announcement:

"Northern Illinois University officials initiated the investigation that led to today's charges and are eager to get to the bottom of what happened. These are serious allegations. As soon as additional information becomes available, we will provide further comment."


The existence of the so-called "coffee fund" came to light earlier this year when it was reported that a DeKalb Iron and Metal Co. employee said NIU employees had been making deposits into the fund with money from sales of university-owned scrap metal for the past 25 years. NIU closed the fund in August and placed four employees in Materials Management on leave for a maximum of 30 days, pending an investigation by the university. 

Review panel member among the charged

NIU Executive Vice President Eddie Williams named Jackson to a new three-person policy review committee formed Aug. 30, along with Vice President for Administration Steve Cunningham and Deputy General Counsel for Administration Greg Brady.
 An NIU Today article published Aug. 30 announced formation of the committee: 

"... necessary administrative actions have been taken to assure the continuity of operations while the investigation is completed. These actions include placing four employees within the Materials Management Department on a maximum of 30 days paid administrative leave, staff reassignments and the empaneling of a policy review committee charged with reviewing and updating all procedures related to property control, cash receipts, recycling and the disposition of surplus materials."

That article also announced that NIU had found and closed the "Coffee Fund" account and moved the money to an NIU account.

The state's attorney's office  charged Jackson with Felony Obstructing Justice in that “with the intent to obstruct the prosecution of NIU employees, he knowingly altered physical evidence, the Coffee Fund account managed by Sue Zahm and Keenon Darlinger at Castle Bank, in that he obtained the funds from said account and placed them into another account ...” 

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