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Local

NIU ‘coffee fund’ 
fuels worries

Northern Illinois University Trustee Marc Strauss said the allegations of misconduct surrounding two administrators who quit last month are cause for concern.

“Misconduct concerns me,” he said. “... I’m very concerned if the allegations, or allegations similar to the ones I’ve heard, turn out to be true.”

John Gordon, former director of the Convocation Center, and Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities, signed separation agreements a day apart in July, and both received salary and benefits worth more than $80,000 combined.

Albanese and Gordon were put on paid leave July 19 and 20, respectively, with their resignations effective July 31.
Separation agreements with the administrators show the university had been investigating misconduct allegations against them when the agreements were signed, although there was no finding that any allegations were true, university officials have said.

When asked if he thought the separation agreements – which included confidentiality agreements forbidding discussion of university operations – were appropriate, Strauss said he didn’t have enough facts about the situation to say. He said he hadn’t conducted any investigation or seen the results of any investigations.

Board Chairwoman Cherilyn Murer and Trustee John Butler did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Trustee Robert Boey declined to comment. Trustees Wheeler Coleman, Anthony Iosco and Robert Marshall could not by reached at numbers listed for them.

NIU police launched an investigation earlier this month when the Daily Chronicle brought the existence of a “coffee fund” to the university’s attention. An employee at DeKalb Iron and Metal Company has said employees from NIU’s Physical Plant had been selling scrap materials from NIU properties and depositing the funds in an off-the-books bank account for more than two decades.

The scrap company made payments of more than $13,000 to the coffee fund since 2005, according to company payment records.

University officials responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Daily Chronicle on Thursday seeking any documents related to the coffee fund bank account. NIU spokeswoman Kathryn Buettner provided an interim report stating that “no university bank statements or accounts have been located with the name ‘coffee fund’ contained therein.”

Several canceled checks, one written as recently as June 30, have deposits made out to the coffee fund and were endorsed by a materials management employee “for deposit only.”
Albanese supervised the materials management department.

Gordon also reported to Albanese, and Albanese reported to Eddie Williams, executive vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities.

Williams has declined to comment to the Daily Chronicle, but did comment to the university’s “NIU Today.”

“We acted swiftly upon learning of the possibility of impropriety, and I instructed the NIU Police to launch a thorough investigation,” Williams was quoted as saying. “We are waiting for the police to conclude their investigation. We look forward to receiving the findings in the very near future.”

The NIU Police Department also falls under the Division of Finance and Facilities, and Strauss said he could see why people might be concerned about a conflict of interest.

“It would be different if the allegations were against the police,” he said. “But the allegations aren’t against the police,”

Strauss said for now, he’s just waiting for investigations to conclude and for more facts to come forward.

“It’s easy to rush to conclusions,” he said. “I don’t have complete information, and I don’t think anybody does.”

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