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NIU president addresses police, coffee fund in video

DeKALB – In a six-minute Thanksgiving message, Northern Illinois University President John Peters announced three operational reviews targeting departments touched by scandal.

His video message, posted online at niu.edu/president/messages/thanksgiving_2012.shtml, doesn’t specifically mention the nine people indicted in connection to the coffee fund investigation, nor the NIU police chief and lieutenant on paid leave over mishandled evidence in a rape case involving an NIU police officer and an NIU student.

However, Peters acknowledged that investigations take time, and policies must be followed.

“I want to assure you, however, that we are addressing these challenges head-on, in a manner that is legally appropriate and sensitive to our overall commitment to fairness and respect for each person’s fundamental right to due process,” Peters said in the video. “That laws and regulations make it nearly impossible for us to fully and publicly address some of those challenges, makes it all the more frustrating.”

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

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.

Peters announced he is commissioning a “360 degree, comprehensive review” of the university’s fraud prevention and detection policies. That’s on top of the review presently under way of policies and accounts in departments that are responsible for university scrap metal and other materials.

“We are also launching a management study of the university’s accounting system, processes, procedures and policies in an effort to ensure we have adequate staffing levels and procedures going forward in the critical operational areas of accounting, risk management, internal audit and compliance,” Peters said.

Steve Cunningham, NIU’s vice president of administration, and Jerry Blakemore, NIU’s vice president and general counsel, are leading those efforts.

A third review includes a management study of the NIU police department. Bill Nicklas, the recently named acting director of public safety, and Darren Mitchell, acting chief of police, are reviewing department operations, Peters said.

Nicklas and Mitchell were placed in their current roles after a local judge ruled that NIU police had intentionally misplaced evidence favorable to Andrew Rifkin, a former NIU officer accused of raping a student off duty and off campus.

NIU police Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan placed two witness statements in Rifkin’s personnel file, rather than giving them to prosecutors as required by law. Those witness statements show the victim told other NIU students that she had an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with Rifkin .

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