Charles Flowers, superintendent of the Cook County Regional Office of Education, is free after posting 10 percent of the $100,000 bond imposed on him by Judge Paula Daleo at a hearing at the Maybrook courthouse Friday morning.
Flowers surrendered to Cook County authorities Thursday and was charged with multiple felonies alleging that he stole over $10,000 from the regional office by giving cash advances to employees and used district credit cards to take personal trips and dine in expensive restaurants.
The total loss to the office of the regional superintendent was about $376,000, prosecutors allege.
Wearing a blue and gray sweater, a hip-length black leather coat and dark slacks, Flowers, 51, stood flanked by Cook County deputies in front of Daleo, while prosecutor Jim Lynch restated the charges against him. He did not speak during the hearing.
Instead, Flowers’ attorney, Tim Grace, attempted unsuccessfully to get his client’s bond lowered by half, arguing that Flowers spent his career in the service of children through education.
“This man has spent his entire career working for the children of Cook County,” Grace said.
Grace also stated that all of the money advanced to district employees and all credit card charges of a personal nature had been repaid and that Flowers had documentation to prove it.
Asked by a reporter why an auditor had not been able to find a record of those repayments, Grace shot back, “I don’t know, maybe the auditor isn’t doing his job.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who annouced the charges against Flowers at a press conference on Jan. 14, called the superintendent’s acts “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 non-payment 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 two weeks ago.
Flowers will be in court again on Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. in Room 103 at the Maybrook courthouse.