State's attorney drops 3rd NIU 'coffee fund' case

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 1:28 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 11:11 p.m. CDT
(File photo)
Keith Jackson

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack has dropped charges against a third person who was charged in connection with the "coffee fund" investigation at Northern Illinois University.

NIU Controller Keith Jackson, 56, had been charged with official misconduct and violation of the State Property Control Act in connection with alleged scrap metal recycling activities. Jackson, 56, of Hinckley, was also charged with obstructing justice for allegedly putting the money from the coffee fund account into another account he controlled.

Gary Johnson, attorney for Jackson, said his client moved the money to a different account because he did not know who it belonged to and wanted it under university control. Johnson said Jackson notified officials before transferring the funds.

"The state's attorney realized [Jackson] did nothing wrong," Johnson said. "He was just doing his job and doing the right thing."

Johnson and eight others were charged last year by Schmack's predecessor, Clay Campbell, who lost to Schmack in the November election. Since taking office, Schmack has dropped three of the nine cases and supported a plea agreement in a fourth.

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.      

Schmack said that Jackson was not aware of the coffee fund account, and when he discovered it, he took control of the funds and deposited them into another university account properly under his control.

"He did not do that for the purpose of obstructing justice," Schmack said of the financial transfer.

Charges of theft and official misconduct against NIU employees Susan Zahm and Keenon Darlinger were dropped in March.

Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities at NIU, pleaded guilty in March to violating the State Property Control Act and was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision and fined $825. If he successfully completes court supervision, a conviction will not enter on his record and he can ask to have the case expunged.

Five cases remain pending in connection with the coffee fund investigation. Four are related to the coffee fund itself. Unrelated to the fund, but as part of the same investigation, Joseph Alberti, 56, of DeKalb was charged with theft for allegedly taking unauthorized control of an NIU computer monitor.

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