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Paid leave in ‘coffee fund’ probe costs thousands

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is paying about $2,000 a day in salaries for the eight employees on administrative leave in connection with the “coffee fund” investigation.

Felony arrest warrants were issued last week for nine people in connection with an NIU police investigation of the off-the-books fund, but four of the eight employees were placed on paid leave Aug. 29, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said. The other four were placed on paid leave Thursday, in accordance with state civil service statutes and university policy.

The investigation remains ongoing into the coffee fund, which NIU officials have said was used for retirement parties and other office expenses. The fund allegedly was an off-the-books repository for proceeds from the sale of university-owned scrap metal and other materials.

Records from local scrap metal company DeKalb Iron and Metal Co. show the fund received more than $13,000 since 2005, although it apparently had existed long before that. The coffee fund held $2,187 when it was closed in August, NIU officials have said.

The total annual base salaries for the eight employees are $521,329, which works out to $2,005 daily, according to information Palian provided Tuesday.

Four employees have been on paid leave since Aug. 29: Keenon Darlinger, the storekeeper for materials management, whose annual salary is $37,030; Lawrence Murray, the manager of property control who earned $53,818; Kenneth Pugh, director of materials management, $108,243; and Susan Zahm, inventory specialist for property control, $35,120.

Four others were placed on paid leave Thursday: Joseph Alberti, an account technician for materials management with an annual salary of $46,839; Mark Beaird, an inventory specialist for materials management at $27,593; Michael Hall, the traffic manager in the materials management department, at $62,010; and Keith Jackson, the university’s controller, at $150,677.

Most have been charged in connection with coffee fund activities.

Alberti faces theft charges for allegedly taking a university computer monitor, and Jackson is charged with official misconduct, violation of the State Property Control Act and obstructing justice.

When reached for comment, an attorney for Alberti said he is innocent.

“Joe has not done anything illegal, immoral or improper,” defense attorney Nicholas Cronauer said in a statement. “It’s our opinion that he will be vindicated once the evidence is reviewed. Joe is presumed innocent, and the evidence will support his innocence.”

Also facing charges is Robert Albanese, who left the university July 31 after signing a separation agreement that said he faced “serious and substantial allegations of misconduct.” The university also paid Albanese $45,000 at the time of his resignation, which was based on his annual salary of $198,553.

NIU police began their investigation Aug. 3 and turned it over to the state’s attorney’s office Sept. 4 and the attorney general’s office Sept. 5.

By the numbers
$2,005:
The combined daily amount NIU is paying eight employees placed on leave after being charged in connection with the coffee fund investigation.

$2,187: The amount in the coffee fund when it was closed in August

$13,000: Approximate amount funneled to the coffee fund since 2005

Annual Base Salary        Daily Rate Joseph Alberti                 $46,839.00                 $180.15 Mark Beaird                    $27,592.50                  $106.13 Keenon Darlinger            $37,030.50                 $142.43 Michael Hall                    $62,010.00                 $238.50 Keith Jackson                 $150,677.28                $579.53 Lawrence Murray           $53,817.84                  $206.99 Kenneth Pugh                $108,243.36                $416.32 Susan Zahm                  $35,119.50                  $135.08

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