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NIU officials close ‘coffee fund’

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University officials have located the “coffee fund” and shut it down.

University officials said the private, nonuniversity bank account, which contained about $2,100, has been closed, with the money deposited into the university’s general fund.

Four employees in NIU’s Materials Management Department have been placed on paid leave for a maximum of 30 days, but NIU officials did not name them.

The coffee fund was brought to the university’s attention Aug. 3 when an employee at DeKalb Iron and Metal Co. told the Daily Chronicle that NIU employees had been selling university-owned property and depositing the proceeds into the coffee fund.

Company payment records dating to 2005 show that the fund had been paid more than $13,000, but the fund has been in place at least 25 years, according to the DIMCO employee.

A copy of a cashier’s check obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows the coffee fund was in an account at Castle Bank, which was closed Wednesday. It held $2,187.

Steven Cunningham, associate vice president for administration and human resource services, said although the money was from a nonauthorized, private account, the money was put into NIU’s general fund, where money from the sale of surplus or scrap material should go.

“From everything that we know, all of the deposits into that external fund were from the sale of surplus material that was university property,” he said. “That money was put back where it belonged in the first place.”

Paul Palian, director of media and public relations, said the funds were used by employees for departmental social functions, such as retirements and holiday parties.

“I would think that it would be fine as far as using certain funds [for those purposes],” he said. “We’ve had retirement parties like crazy this year.”

Cunningham said university departments often hold those types of functions. He added that many departments maintain funds for such events, and those funds are accumulated by employees donating their own money.

“Certainly there are appropriate, authorized funds for those functions,” he said. “In situations where employees make contributions into funds, those don’t go into external accounts.”

He said he could not speak to whether it was appropriate to use money generated from the sale of NIU property to fund those types of events because he didn’t know enough about how the money was used. He also declined to provide the names of the employees who were put on paid administrative leave.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said he met with university officials Thursday and is waiting for the results of an investigation that, for now, is limited to the NIU Police Department.

Campbell said his office has been in contact with the Illinois State Police on various matters, including the ongoing investigations at NIU. He said the State Police have not decided whether they would to become involved.

A policy review committee made up of NIU employees is now tasked with reviewing the university’s property control procedures, recycling and disposal of materials and cash receipts. The committee is made up of Cunningham; Keith Jackson, NIU controller; and Greg Brady, deputy counsel for administration.

Brady declined comment, and Jackson did not return a message left Friday.

Cunningham said he expected to move through the review quickly, starting with developing an outline of the types of transactions and policies they plan to look at. Once that’s done, the committee will catalog the internal procedures they believe should be updated or developed.

“Then we’ll undertake the process of making sure they’re made readily available so there are no accidents with respect to this type of thing,” he said.

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