Web Extra! Updated 1/14/2010 5:22 p.m.
Dr. Charles Flowers, the embattled superintendent of the Cook County Regional Office of Education, was arrested Thursday and charged with multiple felonies following a yearlong financial crime investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney.
Flowers, 51, of Maywood, stole more than $10,000 from the regional office, with a total loss of about $376,000, according to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Flowers turned himself in at the Maybrook Courthouse earlier today. He is expected to appear in bond court tomorrow morning.
In a press release, Alvarez called Flower’s alleged crimes “brazen.”
“In this case we have an elected official who is supposed to be working for the taxpayers of Cook County, who apparently had the absurd notion that the taxpayers were working for him,” Alvarez said.
Flowers stands accused of stealing money from the Illinois State Board of Education, making cash advances to his sister and girlfriend, and using official credit cards for various personal expenses, including travel and food.
He’s also accused of using restricted funds to pay two assistant regional superintendents “consulting fees” of $9,000 and $12,000, despite their $80,000 annual salaries.
The state’s attorney’s office initiated a criminal probe of Flowers’ office in early 2009. A subsequent audit published by the state auditor general showed significant financial irregularities within the office. Last July, agents of the state’s attorney executed a search warrant at Flowers’ home and at the regional office of education, seizing computers, payroll records and time sheets, among other evidence.
Flowers is a former special education teacher and administrator. He served as president of Maywood and Melrose Park school District 89 prior to being elected to the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education.
In November 2006, he was elected regional superintendent, beating Republican incumbent Robert Ingraffia with more than 61 percent of the vote.
Despite being elected to a new office, Flowers declined to resign from the Dist. 209 board. In June, 2007, the Dist. 209 board voted 5-1 to declare his seat vacant, ousting him from the board.
As regional superintendent, Flowers was tasked with the administration of teacher certification and background checks and fingerprinting services for 25,000 educators in the county’s 143 school districts. The office is also responsible for administering state office of education mandates locally.
Flowers tenure as the regional superintendent has been rocky. His office is some $1 million in debt. After a series of fiscally questionable practices, Flowers went to the county board seeking $190,000. The county has since filed a civil lawsuit seeking restitution of the $190,000, which has not been paid back. In that three-count lawsuit, the state’s attorney alleged that Flowers intended to defraud the county, engaged in breach of contract and breached a promissory note for the $190,000.
Last year the Cook County board formally voted no-confidence in Flowers and called for the abolition of the regional superintendent’s office.
In November, Flowers vacated his Westchester office in the face of eviction for nonpayment of more than $10,000 in back rent. On Nov. 11, Broadview village officials closed the new regional office of education due to Flowers not having obtained a business license and occupancy permit. He managed to re-open his offices last week.