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Indictments handed down in NIU coffee fund investigation

SYCAMORE – Indictments were filed last week against the nine people charged in connection with the coffee fund investigation.

The coffee fund allegedly was an off-the-books repository for proceeds from the sale of Northern Illinois University-owned scrap metal and other materials that NIU officials have said 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.

The defendants face the same charges as when they were arrested; the indictments signify that a grand jury found there was probable cause to believe they committed the alleged crimes after hearing evidence from prosecutors.

Charged with official misconduct, two counts of theft and violation of State Property Control Act were: Robert Albanese, 62, of Elburn; Michael Hall, 56, of Shannon; Lawrence Murray, 52, of Rochelle; Susan Zahm, 58, of Hillcrest; Kenneth Pugh, 57, of Sycamore; Keenon Darlinger, 36, of DeKalb; and Mark Beaird, 52, of Kings.

Murray also was charged with theft for allegedly taking an NIU Samsung Syncmaster 213T monitor and a lapidary unit.

Joseph Alberti, 56, of DeKalb was charged with theft for allegedly taking unauthorized control of an NIU HP monitor.

Keith Jackson, 55, of Hinckley was charged with official misconduct and violation of State Property Control Act in connection with alleged scrap metal recycling activities.

He also was charged with obstructing justice for allegedly putting the money from the Coffee Fund account into another account he controlled.

Eight of the nine defendants remain on paid leave from NIU, which costs the university about $2,000 daily.

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

Four others were placed on paid leave Oct. 18: Alberti, an account technician for materials management with an annual salary of $46,839; Beaird, an inventory specialist for materials management, at $27,593; Hall, the traffic manager in the materials management department, at $62,010; and Jackson, the university’s controller, at $150,677.

Albanese 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.

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