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NIU hired outside firm to investigate employees

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University paid a local law firm about $25,000 to investigate NIU employees in June, but university officials aren’t releasing the findings.

A contract between the university and Sycamore law firm Foster & Buick Law Group shows that attorney John Countryman was hired June 4 to investigate “named individuals within the organization.” The contract was obtained by the Daily Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request.

NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the individuals at the center of the investigation were Robert Albanese, former associate vice president of the Division of Finance and Facilities, and John Gordon, former Convocation Center director. University officials have said that the two resigned for “personal reasons.”

NIU hired Countryman at an hourly rate of $300. Palian said he didn’t know the exact amount NIU paid for the full investigation, but said it cost about $25,000.

Palian said allegations were brought forth May 30, and university administrators started interviews with individuals that afternoon.

“Obviously, the university took the allegations very seriously – enough so to conduct interviews the same day,” he said.

He did not know who raised the allegations or which division conducted the interviews before Countryman was hired. A message left for Countryman was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Palian said the Office of University General Counsel sought an independent third party to conduct the investigations, which took about 45 days.
Albanese and Gordon signed separation agreements with the university July 19 and July 20, respectively.

“The findings of the investigation were presented to those employees and those employees, for personal reasons, decided upon the action they took,” Palian said.

The agreements showed the university provided Gordon with six months of health insurance and three months’ salary when he resigned, worth about $36,240 total. The university also paid Albanese $45,000 at the time of his resignation, which was based on his annual salary of $198,553.

The agreements state they settle any claims, for all time, that the University might have against Gordon or Albanese, or vice-versa.

University officials refused to provide findings and reports compiled by Countryman because they said they are exempt from disclosure.

Palian said he could not elaborate on the actual findings because they’re considered personnel matters, but he doesn’t believe the allegations revolved around financial matters.

The contract with Countryman was made on behalf of the NIU Board of Trustees.

Trustee Marc Strauss said he had not read the report of the findings and is waiting for all ongoing investigations to conclude.

The board will have a committee meeting at 9 a.m. today at 315 Altgeld Hall at NIU, in the Board of Trustees room.

Palian said that contract concluded the university administration’s investigation into the allegations, but said he wasn’t sure if other investigations continue in relation to those allegations. He pointed out that the allegations were different for each employee.

The NIU Police Department is following up on its investigation into the “coffee fund” – an account that has collected at least $13,000 since 2005 from NIU employees selling university property, according to an employee at DeKalb Iron and Metal Co.

That investigation led police to R. Zimmerman, Inc., Trucking and Recycling in DeKalb on Wednesday. NIU police Sgt. Alan Smith said he couldn’t comment further because the matter is still a criminal investigation, but said police were following up on leads. A message left Wednesday at R. Zimmerman, Inc., Trucking and Recycling was not returned.

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