Are Village Officials in Summit misusing taxpayer dollars? - FOX 32 News Chicago

Are Village Officials in Summit misusing taxpayer dollars?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) -

If you find yourself needing a loan, you'd probably go to a bank.

However, Village Officials in Southwest Suburban Summit found another way to get some fast cash -- from taxpayers.

FOX 32 News and the Better Government Association found the top Village Administrator in Summit gave himself a cash advance on his salary, then abruptly resigned after we started asking questions about it.

FOX 32's Dane Placko asked Summit Mayor Joseph Strzelczyk, "What did you know about these loans?"

He responded, "Talk to our attorney, and he makes a heck of a lot more money probably than you or I do."

Strzelczyk has been Mayor of Summit for nearly two decades. His brother was Mayor before him and his brother's son, Chet Strzelczyk, served as Summit's Village Administrator making about $85,000 a year -- until he suddenly resigned last week.

So, why did the Mayor's nephew quit?

It started with a phone call from the Better Government Association asking whether Strzelczyk and others had received cash advances on their salary.

"He denied that he had gotten anything, or that any staff members had gotten anything," said Bob Herguth of the BGA.

So, Herguth filed a Freedom of Information request with the village.

"And lo and behold, the Village Administrator, Chet, had indeed received a loan, as it was termed, on village documents," Herguth said.

In 2013, Strzelczyk wrote up an informal loan document giving himself a cash advance of $2,800 on his salary -- to be paid back at $200 a week through the remainder of the year.

Strzelczyk signed as the borrower and had his assistant sign as the lender.

"Apparently it was interest free. Apparently the village board did not know about it. And apparently the village board should have known about it and approved it. You can't just unilaterally give yourself a loan with taxpayer money. And that's what it appears occurred here," Herguth added.

But Strzelczyk wasn't the only Village Official getting a payday loan at the taxpayer's expense.

“I hope it was okay because it wasn't anything I thought I was doing wrong," said Summit Village Trustee Tyrone Modiest.

Modiest received two separate salary advances of $3,000 each. Again, Strzelczyk signed the loan forms, but this time as the lender.

"Well I did this because I was trying to get a refinance and get a home modification for my house and stuff like that," said Modiest.

Placko responded, "So you asked the Village Administrator?"

"I needed somebody to get out of debt, you know," Modiest added.

Last week, the Village Board held a special meeting and accepted Strzelczyk's resignation, with his Uncle -- the Mayor -- reading the letter.

"Well as I said, talk to the attorney," Strzelczyk reiterated.

Placko responded, "Did you know? Did you approve it? You're the mayor."

"For the third time you asked me and the third time I told you talk to our attorney," Strzelczyk added.

Later, a spokesman for the Mayor released the following statement:

"I have ordered an audit to accurately identify the extent of this practice under the former village manager... I don't believe the intent was to harm the public's interests but rather to help people... Clearly the practice is wrong."

"Times are tough. We don't begrudge people that. I understand that. But taxpayers are not a bank. You work for the taxpayers. Their money is not your money,” Herguth said.

It appears both Strzelczyk and Modiest paid back their loans. FOX 32 also learned the Village of Summit gave another type of loan to Trustee Steve Memishi -- allowing him to use the village's health insurance if he paid for it.

Memishi fell behind on the payments, and now owes summit taxpayers more than $17,000.

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