By Jodi S. Cohen and Stacy St. Clair
Questions about financial oversight, ethics violations at College of DuPage amid grand jury probe
DuPage prosecutors tried to keep College of DuPage spending, employment records a secret
The College of DuPage continued to employ the engineer at its campus radio station — and continued to pay bills submitted by his private company — for nearly two years after he was convicted of a felony for using that same business to steal from another local college.
The situation raises questions about financial oversight at the taxpayer-funded community college, where the ethics code bars employees from participating in business transactions from which they personally profit, and about whether school officials heeded warnings about engineer John Valenta's business dealings after his March 2011 arrest.
Over the past decade, The College of DuPage radio station paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to John Valenta's company, according to documents. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune and Elmhurst Police Department)
Now DuPage County prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury, according to court records. As that investigation has moved forward, prosecutors and College of DuPage officials have tried to keep the case secret from the public. Prosecutors even went so far as to obtain a sealed court order to prevent the Tribune from obtaining information about Valenta's employment and business dealings with the school.
Valenta, who left the college in February, has not been charged with a crime in connection with his activities at the College of DuPage. He referred questions to his attorney, Brad Telander, who did not return calls.
Over the past decade, the college radio station paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Valenta's company, Broadcast Technologies, for equipment and repairs, according to documents. The college acknowledged that those purchases violated the school's ethics code.
College spokesman Joseph Moore said officials "uncovered a possible case of fraud" by a WDCB-FM 90.9 employee in December 2013 and reported it to law enforcement officials.
Moore said no one at the college acknowledged knowing of Valenta's arrest or conviction for theft at nearby Elmhurst College. However, Elmhurst's security director told the Tribune that his department notified a College of DuPage police detective after Valenta's arrest.
"We felt it was our responsibility to inform them," said Jeff Kedrowski, Elmhurst College's executive director of security and emergency management. "When we provided the information, our expectation was that someone would look into it."
The DuPage County State's Attorney's Office declined comment on the investigation, and would not answer questions about whether it looked into Valenta's billing practices at the College of DuPage when it prosecuted him for the Elmhurst theft. Elmhurst police reports state that, in addition to working at the Elmhurst campus, Valenta was working at the College of DuPage and North Central College in Naperville.
In October, the Tribune, through a public records request, asked the College of DuPage for copies of invoices submitted by Broadcast Technologies as well as other documents related to Valenta's company and his employment. Broadcast Technologies sells parts to radio stations and repairs radio equipment.
On Nov. 14, prosecutors, working with the college, obtained a court order stating that the documents requested by the Tribune and a local nonprofit watchdog group were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Four days later, the college denied the Tribune's request.
The Tribune last week went to court to challenge the court order, and a DuPage County judge overturned it, saying prosecutors erred when they involved themselves in the matter. The college said it will respond to the Tribune's request this month.
Records previously obtained by Open the Books, an Illinois-based group that aims to bring transparency to government spending, found the college paid Broadcast Technologies nearly $320,000 from 2005 to 2013 for radio equipment and services. The college has refused to provide the invoices and other documents, however; the records could show who signed off on the orders and if the equipment was delivered.
"Taxpayers shouldn't have to ask special permission to find out how their money is being spent," said Adam Andrzejewski, the founder of Open the Books and a one-time Republican candidate for Illinois governor. Andrzejewski has been a frequent critic of the college.
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