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Crime & Courts

‘Coffee fund’ defendants make first courtroom appearance

SYCAMORE – Six of nine people charged in connection with the Northern Illinois University “coffee fund” investigation made their first appearances in court Friday.

Robert Albanese, Keenon Darlinger, Keith Jackson, Lawrence Murray, Kenneth Pugh and Susan Zahm appeared before Associate Judge Bill Brady at the DeKalb County Courthouse.

Brady read the charges against each and the sentencing ranges they face if convicted. Some face theft charges that carry a penalty of up to seven years in prison, others face less severe penalties.

Also charged as a result of the investigation are Joseph Alberti, Mark Beaird and Michael Hall.

Warrants were issued last week for eight current employees and Albanese, former associate vice president of finance and facilities, who resigned in July.

NIU placed four of the employees on paid administrative leave in August and the remaining four employees on paid leave last week.

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, private 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.

Zahm began to cry as the charges against her were read. Others looked somber as Brady informed them of their rights. When the judge asked if they had any questions, each person said no.

Attorneys for Zahm, Albanese, Murray, Jackson and Darlinger had no comment.

Attorney Richard Larson, representing Pugh, said the charges have been traumatic for all involved and the cases likely will go on for some time.

“When the dust settles and the smoke clears, I think it’ll be apparent that Mr. Pugh is not a criminal,” Larson said.

Jackson will next appear in court Dec. 17. Murray, Pugh and Zahm will be in court again Dec. 18. Albanese and Darlinger will be in court Dec. 19.

Alberti and Hall are scheduled to appear in court Nov. 2. Beaird will be in court Nov. 9.

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