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Two more cases in 'coffee fund' investigation dropped

DeKALB – Attorneys for the three remaining Northern Illinois University employees charged with felonies in connection with the "coffee fund" investigation are hopeful the trend of dropped charges will continue.

In all, DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack has dropped charges against five people charged through the NIU police investigation. Attorney J. Brick Van Der Snick believes his client will be the next to be cleared.

Mark Beaird, an inventory specialist for materials management at NIU, is represented by Van Der Snick and due in court Tuesday.

"I am extremely pleased the state's attorney office recognizes nothing illegal has taken place," Van Der Snick said in response to the dropped charges against Beaird's co-defendants. "We're hoping that since we are on next, we too will be dismissed."

After Schmack dropped charges Thursday against Michael Hall, 56, of Shannon, and Joseph Alberti, 56, of Kings, Beaird remains the only employee who was invited back to work by NIU in January that still has a pending case.

The other two charged – Lawrence Murray, 52, of Rochelle, and Kenneth Pugh, 57, of Sycamore – remain on a paid leave that started in August. Murray, manager of property control, earns $53,818, while Pugh, director of materials management, makes $108,243 annually.

Richard Larson, attorney for Pugh, said he has been in constant discussions with the university and state's attorney office to have charges dropped and Pugh reinstated. He said there has been hesitation because Pugh had a supervisory role, but Pugh never violated any laws or his job duties.

"We've managed to demonstrate by looking at his job description ... that he was not a decision maker on issues of recycling," Larson said. "His colleagues at NIU have written a letter of support and I've tried to convey all of the positive things he has done for NIU above and beyond his job duties."

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

NIU spokesman Paul Palian said there is no timetable for Murray and Pugh to potentially return to work. Their investigation is more complex than the other cases, Palian said.

Charges have been dropped against NIU Controller Keith Jackson and employees Michael Hall, Joseph Alberti, Keenon Darlinger and Susan Zahm.

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, a misdemeanor, and the felony charges against him were dropped. He was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision and fined $825.

Albanese can have the case expunged if he successfully completes court supervision.

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