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The FBI has been in Peru city hall in recent weeks investigating payroll misconduct involving Mayor Scott Harl, a problem also investigated this winter by a retired judge.
The NewsTribune learned of the federal investigation last week from three city officials and then contacted Mayor Harl Monday. He said he was not aware of an investigation by the FBI.
“If they have been, they haven’t come to me,” Harl said. “Nobody contacted me. There is no opinion or no statement I can make if they haven’t come to me.”
The NewsTribune first learned of the FBI’s investigation last week from a city official.
The NewsTribune then contacted two other sources, city clerk Dave Bartley and Alderman Rodney Perez. Bartley said two agents from the FBI’s white collar division in Orland Park interviewed him about the payroll issue “and other matters.”
Perez said: “It’s been forwarded to the FBI and the FBI is investigating.” When contacted again this week, the initial source reconfirmed the FBI’s involvement but did not want to comment on the record and wished to remain anonymous. Special Agent Joan Hyde of the Chicago FBI office said Tuesday the FBI’s policy prescribes not issuing statements confirming or denying an investigation.
The FBI does not issue statements regarding investigations until an arrest is made, charges are filed or something is placed into the public record. Last week, when contacted by the NewsTribune, Perez said the FBI’s involvement resulted from his effort this winter to forward information regarding the payroll problem to law enforcement agencies. One of those agencies was the state police. After about a week, Perez heard nothing from state police and he forwarded information to the FBI, he said.
On Tuesday this week, Perez sent an email to local media with more information and the NewsTribune contacted him by phone. Perez said a “non-political” resident of Peru assisted Perez in gathering findings and gave these to the FBI on Feb. 12. “If the FBI found enough cause to submit a request to the U.S. States Attorney to open a case the FBI would begin investigation into the payroll issue,” Perez said in his email. “At this time I’m not aware of any charges or if any will be brought forward.”
The payroll issue became apparent last fall to city officials and prompted the city to hire retired judge William Balestri to investigate it. Balestri issued a report to the city, saying Harl approved overtime pay for one public works employee from 2009 to 2011, and then a second employee from 2011 to 2013, without following city ordinance. The overtime was not linked to specific work but created as total pay proportionate to these employees’ increased duties and responsibilities once Gary Bleck was moved up to superintendent. Harl had a mistaken view of his powers within ordinances when he authorized the pay without council or committee approval, according to Balestri’s report.
The council received the report from Balestri in January and voted to forward it to the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office for review and recommendation.
Perez was the only council member who voted against this decision. Last month the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office said it “will not be proceeding with any criminal charges” because Balestri’s investigation and report “did not uncover any concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” agreeing with Balestri’s findings.