At least four present and former Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District officials have been interviewed by federal investigators and three of those officials have testified before a federal grand jury where they were asked questions about a building repair project dating back to 2012 and the company involved in the project.
According to the officials, the federal probe does not appear to be targeting actions by District 103 administrators or school board members, though they were among those questioned earlier this year.
Among those testifying in front of the grand jury were school board members Sharon Anderson and Joanne Schaeffer, who were on the school board back in 2012, and former Superintendent Michael Warner.
Both Schaeffer and Anderson said they each testified for 10 to 15 minutes.
“They didn’t ask me about any politician,” Schaeffer said. “It was just questions about a vendor. We were doing business with his father before I was elected in 1979.”
Schaeffer said she was asked about a roof repair project at Edison School in Stickney, which an audit later found to have skirted competitive budding protocols. Schaeffer said she was also shown pictures of people whom she didn’t recognize.
Anderson said she was told during an initial interview by investigators that she wasn’t the subject of an investigation.
“They were very up front and said, ‘It has nothing to do with you.'” Anderson said.
Questions at the grand jury hearing, she said, centered on the roof repair project, board procedures about paying bills and questions about the audit conducted in the wake of the project.
“They asked about choosing vendors and what we knew when,” Anderson said.
The Edison School roof repair work was done by a company called A1 Building Maintenance and Plumbing, which listed its billing address as a residence owned by Alan Lembke, the owner of Lembke & Sons True Value Hardware in Berwyn.
The repair work was to have cost about $35,000, which officials at the time said was below the threshold triggering competitive bidding. But the project ended up costing $152,500. In the wake of the cost overruns on that project and one at George Washington Middle School, the school board ordered an audit.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that between 2007 and 2013, District 103 had paid Lembke Hardware more than $800,000.
In March 2016, the Sun-Times reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from the Town of Cicero regarding more than $3 million paid to Lembke Hardware since 2005.
Warner confirmed he’d met with the grand jury in April and answered questions for about 15 minutes. While he declined to discuss what he was asked about, Warner said it appeared investigators were looking at targets outside District 103.
“I don’t feel there was any discussion of negligence related to anybody in District 103,” Warner said.
Margaret Hubacek, the longtime District 103 administrative assistant who retired in 2015, confirmed she was interviewed at her home by a federal investigator in January. She was not called to testify before the grand jury.
The existence of the grand jury first surfaced during the District 103 election campaign, when a direct mail piece funded by a newly formed political committee called Integrity PAC appeared in residents’ mailboxes on April 1, three days before the election.
The direct mail piece contended that the U.S. Attorney’s Office have convened the grand jury to probe “the negligence of School District 103,” tying it the then district “leadership” of Sharon Anderson, Joanne Schaeffer and Margaret Hubacek.
At the time of the building repair projects in question, Anderson and Schaeffer were school board members, while Hubacek was the superintendent’s administrative assistant. Anderson and Hubacek won election to the school board on April 4 and will assume office on April 27, setting up a new board majority that will include Schaeffer and Shannon Johnson, who ran alongside Anderson and Hubacek.
The direct mail piece called Anderson, Schaeffer and Hubacek “dangerous,” “incompetent” and “negligent.” One side of the piece showed a photo of men dressed in FBI jackets, suggesting the three were the subjects of a criminal investigation.
Integrity PAC was established on Jan. 25 by “J Hurt” and lists its address as a post office box in Riverside. The political committee’s first-quarter report to the state board of elections does not appear to reflect expenditures for the “FBI” direct mail piece.
Integrity PAC’s stated purpose is to “elect qualified individuals who maintain honesty and strong moral principles at the local, county and state.”
The committee appears to have been established by Joseph Hurt, who owns the LaGrange-based home-building firm Elite Group Enterprise. A phone number on the political committee’s Statement of Organization matches the one on the Contacts page of Elite Group Enterprise’s website.
Hurt himself has contributed money in the past to Citizens for Christopher Getty and Citizens for Marty Stack.
Getty is the village president of Lyons and supervisor-elect of the Township of Lyons Board of Trustees. Getty donated more than $30,000 to the political committee Parents for Student Excellence, which ran a slate of candidates against Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson.
In 2015, a Getty-backed slate won control of the District 103 school board and installed a completely new administration.
Stack is an attorney who was hired in December 2015 to be District 103’s director of human resources. He made an unsuccessful run for a spot on the Cook County Board of Review last November.