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Attorney: Ortgiesen prosecution possible

Circumstances of mayor’s conviction in Pekin case appear to be similar

Shawn Ortgiesen
Shawn Ortgiesen

DIXON – It sounds a bit like a no-brainer, but there is a legal precedent that seems to allow Shawn Ortgiesen to be criminally charged with official misconduct – even if Dixon has no written policy prohibiting him from using the city credit card for personal expenses.

No such charges have been brought, and in fact, a criminal investigation has not yet begun. The 43-year-old city engineer and director of personnel and public works is on paid leave while the city sorts out how to handle findings that Ortgiesen tallied more than $13,500 in personal expenses on the city card from April 2007 to last month.

He reported his purchases in expense reports filed with the city, and has paid back nearly $5,000, Mayor James Burke has said.

The state Supreme Court upheld the conviction of former Pekin Mayor Lyndell Howard, who was convicted of official misconduct for using a city-issued credit card to pay his gambling expenses. Howard was sentenced to 30 months of probation and community service, and ordered to pay costs.

The justices ruled in that case that a public officer commits misconduct when, acting in his official capacity, and with the intent to obtain a personal advantage, he performs “an excess of his lawful authority,” which is a violation of the state Constitution.

Ortgiesen, who was put on leave Monday, has paid back $4,890.31, but the city could not confirm repayment of the balance of $8,630.83, according to records compiled by city Finance Director Paula Meyer.

Ortgiesen, who has not commented publicly, logged his personal purchases and wrote “to be reimbursed” on credit card expenses for items such as hotels and meals.

No policy exists for credit card usage in the city’s personnel codes, Burke said.

Without knowing all the details, Illinois Press Association attorney Don Craven could not say for certain if charges will be brought against Ortgiesen, but he said Howard’s case demonstrates prosecution is possible based on the violation of Illinois statute.

“There is a precedent there,” Craven said.

Howard was elected mayor of Pekin in 2003. Several years earlier, the City Council obtained credit cards for the city department heads to use to confirm hotel reservations, pay for training sessions, order educational materials and pay expenses while engaged in city business, according to the April 17, 2008, Supreme Court opinion.

Three times in 2004, Howard used the city’s card to obtain more than $1,400 in cash advances to play video poker at the Par-A-Dice Casino in Peoria. He used the card only after he exhausted the funds available to him through his personal debit and credit cards.

Howard paid the credit card bills from his own assets when they came due.

Still, he was indicted on three counts of official misconduct, one for each time he obtained a cash advance.

In its ruling, the court cited Article 8, Section 1 of the state Constitution, which says public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes, and also Section 33-3 (c), the state statute that says “official misconduct occurs when a public officer, in his official capacity, with intent to obtain a personal advantage for himself or another, performs an act in excess of his lawful authority.”

To avoid a possible conflict of interest or any impropriety, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said Monday that he will work with the Lee County State’s Attorney’s Office to find an appropriate agency to investigate the case.

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