Ex-Cicero worker says she was fired for being whistleblower, sues Dominick, park district
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter email@example.com February 22, 2013 12:20AM
A former Cicero park district employee claims she was fired after blowing the whistle on officials misusing public funds, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
Laura Perez-Garcia, the sister of the Cicero town clerk, is suing Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, the Clyde Park District, some of the heads of the district and its board members.
Perez-Garcia, who for more than a decade managed some of the finances for the park district as an administrative assistant, claims she was wrongfully fired after she reported irregularities in the agency’s spending. The lawsuit claims her efforts to expose violations “threatened the Dominick administration” and the people named in the lawsuit.
The park district in a statement denied the allegations made by “a disgruntled former employee.” The statement said she had been “implicated in the theft and misuse of public property,” but did not provide further detail. With local elections next week, the district said the lawsuit “is nothing more than mere political theater.”
An attorney for Perez-Garcia could not immediately comment.
Ray Hanania, the spokesman for Larry Dominick, said the town president “has nothing to do with the issue at all.”
The lawsuit alleges that, starting in 2005, the park district’s executive director, Tony Martinucci, and its recreation director, Mark Kraft, failed to provide receipts when they used the district’s credit cards.
“This was particularly troubling to Perez[-Garcia], because the charges without receipts often appeared to be personal lunches or dinners by Martinucci and Kraft — charges not permitted by Clyde Park policy,” according to the complaint filed Wednesday.
Neither man responded to a request for comment.
The lawsuit also alleges Martinucci, Kraft and another employee regularly submitted “hand-written lists of checks to be paid by Clyde Park. These handwritten requests were little more than names, addresses, and dollar figures without any other substantiating information to justify the expenses.” The suit goes on to say some of the requests were for thousands of dollars.
Perez-Garcia reported these irregularities to Kraft and Martinucci and eventually a lawyer who works for the firm that represents the Town of Cicero and the park district, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Perez-Garcia was stripped of her work responsibilities and was harassed.
Things got so tense in the office that Larry Dominick was called into a meeting in spring 2012, according to the suit. Also present was a town trustee, the town assessor and Perez-Garcia’s sister, Town Clerk Maria Punzo-Arias.
“During the meeting Perez[-Garcia] expressed her dissatisfaction with the Clyde Park’s operations. Punzo-Arias added that ‘shady stuff’ was going on at Clyde Park District,” according to the complaint, which doesn’t explain what the result of the meeting was.
Punzo-Arias declined to comment, saying she doesn’t want to interfere.
The conflict came to a head in September when a security camera in Perez-Garcia’s office was damaged and she heard “rumors” that she and her daughter were being blamed. The next month, after a park district board meeting, Perez-Garcia was called into a room with the district’s commissioners and her daughter was accused of damaging the camera. A few days later, Perez-Garcia was placed on paid administrative leave. In November she was fired “for cause,” the lawsuit said, though it says the reason for the firing was never explained.
“Defendants treated Perez[-Garcia] differently than other persons . . . when they harassed her, humiliated her, curtailed her work responsibilities and terminated her employment for adhering to Clyde Park policies and reporting violations of Illinois Law to Town officials,” the lawsuit claims.