Time to shut off public cash spigot for Naperville man awaiting trial on school district theft charges – Chicago Tribune
Taxpayers in New Lenox-based Lincoln-Way High School District 210 and throughout Illinois may be wondering if justice delayed is justice denied concerning former Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie, who lives in Naperville.
Working stiffs made Wyllie a rich man. People who dutifully paid their taxes year after year funded Wyllie’s public salary. Many families have endured stagnant wages and burdensome property taxes and now struggled to keep up with inflation.
Who can blame folks for resenting an alleged shyster accused of stealing public funds? The feds charged Wyllie Sept. 13, 2017, with multiple felony counts of “fraud by wire, radio or television,” according to court records. Authorities accused him of enriching himself by defrauding taxpayers and bondholders.
American justice is based on the principle of innocence until guilt is proved. While the wily Wyllie awaits his day in court, he continues to collect a taxpayer-funded pension that amounted to $351,250 in 2020.
In Illinois, public pension beneficiaries are guaranteed a 3% compounding annual increase. My math indicates Wyllie’s pension increased to $361,787 in 2021 and $372,640 for 2022. That means Wyllie has collected about $1.7 million in pension in the nearly five years since he was criminally charged. That works out to monthly installations of more than $28,000.
The median income in Illinois was $37,306 in 2020, according to census data. That means Wyllie collects more pension dollars in about six weeks than most Illinoisans earn in a year. If Wyllie is convicted of a felony, the Illinois Teacher Retirement System could initiate a process that could force him to forfeit his pension.
You need not conduct an exhaustive search of the Better Government Association’s database of taxpayer funded pensions to discover Wyllie’s annual benefit. He’s right there at the top of the list of 105,910 beneficiaries of the TRS system. He collects more money than any other retired educator in Illinois.
Yet some folks wonder why the state has an unfunded pension liability problem. Go figure.
Some honest suckers grit their teeth when they write checks to county treasurers to pay their property tax bills. They dislike being separated from their hard-earned money to support the lavish lifestyles of suspected fraudsters.
Wyllie has paid his taxes on time, records showed. The DuPage County treasurer’s office received this year’s first installation of $6,823 to help cover the $13,646 tax bill May 24 for Wyllie’s luxurious 3,817-square-foot mansion in the exclusive White Eagle subdivision in Naperville.
Wyllie and his wife paid $512,500 in 2016 for the five-bedroom, three-bathroom home, records showed. Real estate websites estimate the home is now valued at about $700,000.
Pictures and descriptions in listings detail such amenities as a “sought after first-floor master suite,” a “vaulted two-story family room” and “tons of rich oak cabinets.” It looks very nice, and it’s just a block from the White Eagle Golf Course and the community’s lovely tennis courts and swimming pool.
With his wealth, Wyllie can certainly afford the best money can buy. His lawyer is Dan Webb, a former US attorney for the US District of Northern Illinois who is now in private practice with Winston & Strawn.
It is unknown how much Wyllie is paying Webb. But for reference, Winston & Strawn billed more than $1,500 per hour in a 2019 case involving NCAA student-athletes, according to news reports based on a court filing in the case.
Webb and Winston & Strawn colleagues were hard at work this month on Wyllie’s case. They filed an update July 6 that was ordered by US District Judge Gary S. Feinerman. Wyllie’s trial has repeatedly been delayed, with occasional status hearings instead of jury selection, testimony, deliberations and a verdict that one would expect by now.
Wyllie’s attorneys and government lawyers recently conferred and produced a joint status report for the judge.
“Counsel for Mr. Wyllie again informed the government that Mr. Wyllie’s serious and ongoing medical conditions have not changed,” according to the filing.
Attorneys for both sides told the judge they don’t yet know how the case will proceed. They agreed to confer again before the next status hearing set for Oct. 10
Hopefully Wyllie’s health improves. There is a history of longevity in his family. His father, Burns Wyllie, lived for more than 96 years. Lincoln-Way taxpayers know this because records showed Wyllie directed a worker to create a memorial plaque for his father, who died in 2011.
That was one of many instances in which Wyllie allegedly abused the public trust. The most notorious was when the former superintendent acted without board approval and allegedly spent $45,000 in public funds on the Superdog Obedience school. The facility was housed on school property, provided no student benefit and was run by a trainer who worked with Wyllie’s beloved Australian shepherds.
Lincoln-Way taxpayers had reason to believe justice and accountability would prevail when federal authorities unveiled Wyllie’s 11-page indictment in 2017. The community was nursing fresh wounds after the 2016 closure of Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort Square just eight years after it opened. The prospect of justice eased the pain.
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Wyllie’s compensation was tied to the district’s financial performance, feds alleged in their indictment. Wyllie allegedly cooked the books to make it appear the district’s finances were in better shape than they really were. But the alleged scheme collapsed and the district had to mothball one of its four schools to save money.
“As a result of the scheme, defendant Wyllie fraudulently caused Lincoln-Way to assume at least $7 million in additional debt by the fraudulent issuance of bonds, on which Lincoln-Way continues to pay interest, as well as suffer a loss of at least $80,000 in school district funds that were misappropriated and misused by Wyllie for his own personal benefit,” according to the indictment.
Lincoln-Way taxpayers deserve justice. The people of Illinois whose taxes help fund public pensions deserve justice. Wyllie’s unspecified medical condition does not change the evidence or facts of his case.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Come October, attorneys representing the United States of America ought to petition the federal judge to try Wyllie in absentia if poor health prevents him from appearing in person.
A conviction could shut off the spigot of public funds flowing into Wyllie’s pockets and offer a glimmer of justice to hardworking citizens who deserve accountability for their tax dollars.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.