Apparently, employees of the Chicago Park District saw that as an opportunity. "Some Chicago Park District employees sold scrap metal for more than $60,000 in cash that never made its way back to the district, while others set up Sam’s Club accounts using the district’s tax-exempt status to buy personal items totaling thousands of dollars, the district’s top watchdog found in its latest report."
Much like the coffee fund, the park district had numerous contributors.
One investigation involved several Park District employees in trades and landscape departments who sold scrap metal for $64,000 in cash across hundreds of transactions between 2012 and 2017. Although 11 employees were implicated in the investigation, two employees made the majority of transactions, according to the report, collecting $44,000 that never made its way to the Park District.It's apparently against city rules to sell scrap for cash, but if the scrap merchant doesn't know that's supposed to be an official sale, paying cash doesn't produce a paper trail of checks made out to the coffee fund.
The two employees denied pocketing the cash, according to Fletcher’s report, and said they gave the money to a now-retired foreman. The employees said they had no idea where it went from there.
The Park District initiated termination proceedings for the two employees, as well as disciplinary or termination proceedings for the other involved employees, following the inspector general’s recommendations.
Chicago being Chicago, though, there are apparently no limits to the ability of public officials to game the system.
In another investigation, [state inspector general Will] Fletcher’s office found 24 Sam’s Club members set up accounts using the Park District’s tax-exempt status and bought thousands of dollars worth of personal items without paying sales tax. Seventeen of the 24 members were current or former Park District employees — and seven had never even been employees.Now, if Chicago public officials had studied with the Brazilians, perhaps none of these underlings would have been caught.
Using the Park District’s exemption for personal purchases is sales tax evasion under Illinois law, Fletcher’s report said, and tax-exempt purchases are only permitted for Park District-related purchases.
The employees claimed to not know personal items weren’t taxed, according to the report, even though they were required to confirm at the point-of-sale that purchases were “used in (the) operation of an exempt organization."
From 2015 to 2019, one supervisory employee purchased items totaling $2,810 without paying tax, according to the report. The employee said they bought a tax-free television “on behalf of the park’s advisory council.”
Another supervisory employee purchased $9,326 worth of items — including beer, food, groceries and laundry detergent — without paying tax on the majority of items, according to the report.
A third purchased $14,204 worth of items — like groceries, diapers and clothing — and most were tax-exempt.