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City tightens cash handling after $741,000 embezzlement

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Updated: May 13, 2014 6:14AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is tightening the reins on cash handling to eliminate an embarrassing lack of oversight that allegedly allowed a low-level clerk in the Chicago Department of Transportation to embezzle nearly $750,000 in permit fees over a six-year period.

In a memo to department heads, City Comptroller Dan Widawsky argued that “recent events have highlighted the risks associated with cash management” and the importance of “robust controls to manage” those risks.

“We are the custodians of our city’s resources and you and your finance staff are critical to ensuring that such resources are safeguarded,” Widawsky wrote.

“Each department head is responsible for ensuring that proper controls are in place for any payments received . . .
and that your department’s cash-management processes are regularly reviewed to identify areas of risk and adherence to process.”

The memo demands that cabinet members review cash-management processes to ensure “segregation of duties” in handling all forms of payment, including checks.

“No single individual should perform all related elements of a transaction,” Widawsky wrote. Instead, a separate person should be charged with each of the following: invoice creation; receipt of payment; issuance of license, permit or other city service and reconciliation, the comptroller said.

Antoinette Chenier, 50, was accused this week of embezzling $25 to $200 at a time; she was depositing into her account hundreds of checks Chicagoans had written for permits to park moving vans and dumpsters on city streets since 2008.

The long-running theft allegedly snagged Chenier $741,000, more than 12 times her $60,000-a-year salary.

It wasn’t until January, when Charter One bank staff noticed the unusual activity on one of Chenier’s accounts and froze it, that she was nailed by a joint investigation that included the FBI, the IRS and Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office.

Chenier lived in suburban Homewood, in violation of the city’s residency rule.

As described in the federal complaint, Chenier’s undoing by a Charter One bank employee showed the alleged theft was stunning in its lack of sophistication.

Chenier had opened a bank account called “OEMC Chenier,” in which she deposited permit checks made payable to the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication, according to the complaint.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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