Councilwoman: Philpot’s request for funds stood out as county cut budget
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 August 22, 2012 6:16PM
Lake County coroner Thomas Philpot listens as Lake County councilwoman Christine Cid answers questions from US attorney Phil Bensen Wednesday in Hammond. | Don Colley~For Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: September 24, 2012 7:50AM
A Lake County councilwoman testified Wednesday she was concerned that former Lake County Clerk Thomas Philpot earmarked incentive money for himself while other county employees had to go without raises because of the county’s dire financial situation.
Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid and four former county councilmen took the stand for the prosecution in the third day of Philpot’s public corruption jury trial in U.S. District Court in Hammond.
Philpot is charged with three counts of mail fraud and two counts of theft in connection with taking bonuses from a federal child support incentive fund. The bonuses, taken between 2004 and 2009, totaled $24,702. The government alleges Philpot, who is now the Lake County coroner, did not have permission to take money from the fund.
“I’ve always taken a stand against supplemental pay,” said Cid, a deputy in the county clerk’s office in Gary since 2004. “I’ve felt every county employee deserved an increase, not just a few.”
Cid said she was Lake County Council president in 2008 when she saw a request for supplemental pay on a County Council agenda. “I had never seen a request on the agenda before for that fund,” she said.
Cid said she learned Philpot and his top administrators were targeted for the bonuses.
Cid said she sought an opinion on the legality of the pay from county attorney Ray Szarmach. “I was concerned about the elected officials receiving the pay increase,” she said. Cid testified she was aware of a state law that says elected officials’ salaries can’t increase during the year, except at budget time.
“In November, anytime someone requests supplemental pay, it’s a bonus. It’s not looked favorably upon. We just cut $15 million and had layoffs.”
Besides Cid, former councilmen Thomas O’Donnell, Donald Potrebic, Ron Tabaczynski and Joel Markovich all testified they couldn’t recall Philpot seeking a bonus from the fund.
Defense attorney Ted Poulos maintained the child support incentive fund was not part of the county budget.
He asked Cid if a federal investigation into her tax returns pressured her to remember details in the Philpot case. “No,” Cid replied.
Former county clerk personnel director Gus Trakas, a 30-year associate of Philpot, testified he talked with Cid about the bonuses and she told him she thought Philpot should seek council approval. Trakas said Philpot told him he had a Nov. 19, 2008, letter from his attorney advising him he didn’t need council approval. The request was withdrawn, before the council acted on it.
Dennis Tobin, county clerk payroll administrator since 2006, said Philpot’s chief deputy, Sandra Radoja, handed him a list of 12 to 15 employees who received bonuses in addition to their regular pay. Philpot was among the names, he said.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Thursday.