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Second case dropped in NIU 'coffee fund' investigation

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 12:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:29 p.m. CDT
Susan Zahm

SYCAMORE – Prosecutors dropped criminal charges Monday against the woman who kept records for Northern Illinois University's "coffee fund" scrap metal recycling operation.

Susan Zahm, 58, of Hillcrest, was the second "coffee fund" case DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack has dropped. Both Zahm and Keenon Darlinger, 36, of DeKalb, had been charged with theft, official misconduct and violating the State Property Control Act for allegedly mishandling between $500 and $10,000 worth of recycleable material between Oct. 12, 2009 and Oct. 12, 2012.

"While there is no evidence that the fund was ever used for anyone's personal enrichment, all profits from recycling at all state agencies are to be directed to the state Department of Central Management Services," Schmack said in a news release.

Both Zahm and her attorney declined comment Monday.

The coffee fund was an off-the-books repository for proceeds from the sale of NIU-owned scrap metal and other materials. The account accumulated at least $13,000 since 2005 and held $2,187 when it was closed in August. The money was used for office retirement parties and similar expenses, NIU officials have said.

Zahm's and Darlinger's names were listed on the account at a local bank, court records show. But they worked under the supervision and direction of NIU officials who had control over recycling, Schmack said. NIU has reimbursed the state for the diverted funds, Schmack said.

"While [Zahm's] actions certainly contributed to the diversion of funds from Central Management Services, she would have performed the same, or similar, work activities had her supervisors been directing funds to the proper place," Schmack said in the news release.

Their cases were dropped after Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities at NIU, pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating the State Property Control Act, a Class B misdemeanor, and prosecutors dropped felony charges of theft and official misconduct.

Albanese, 62, of Elburn, was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision and fined $825. If he successfully completes the nonreporting probation, Albanese can have his record expunged. This case should not affect his ability to collect his pension.

Six cases remain pending in connection with the coffee fund investigation.

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