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Ashton official got personal loan from village

Clerk says she went to police chief for help

ASHTON – Then-Village President John Martinez got no one’s permission to take a personal loan from a village fund. He set the terms in an IOU.

In response to a Sauk Valley Media public records request, the village on Thursday released the IOU that Martinez placed in the village’s scrap metal fund, in a locked drawer at Village Hall.

In April, a grand jury investigated the village president’s actions with the fund, but found nothing criminal.

According to the Post-It-note-sized IOU, Martinez borrowed $750 from the “junk money” on July 23, 2010, promising to pay it back May 1, 2011. He signed it.

Village Clerk Sharon VanDam, who handles the village’s finances, said Martinez requested the village keep the money in a Village Hall drawer in April 2010, and she did. But she said Martinez never told her that he took money out of the fund for his personal use. She said she stumbled upon the IOU sometime later.

She said she requested Martinez return the money, but he wouldn’t. So she said she contacted then-Police Chief Jim Hetland “when the money was not paid back when it was supposed to have been.” Hetland, she said, gave her a deadline for getting the money from the village president or the chief would take action.

According to the village’s documentation, Martinez returned the money June 15, 2011, a month and a half after his self-imposed payback date.

Martinez said this week that the village had the off-the-books scrap metal fund for years and that he and village employees would borrow from it for such things as lunch in Dixon. He said he was the only one “stupid enough” to put an IOU with the cash.

VanDam disagreed with Martinez’s account.

“I’ve been clerk for 13 years, and we never had this fund or anything like it before John Martinez started it in April 2010,” she said in an email. “No one other than Martinez took a penny for personal use out of that money.”

Previously, she said, the proceeds of scrap metal sales went into the village’s bank account, as has been the case since Martinez paid back the $750.

Martinez, who lost to write-in candidate Don Ross in his bid for re-election in April, has maintained that when VanDam flagged the problem, he quickly returned with what he owed. He said the amount was $160.

“When she [VanDam] brought it to my attention, I went straight home. I told my wife, ‘I screwed up.’ Within an hour, I came back with the $160. I wouldn’t have been able to get $750 from my house,” he said during a telephone interview Friday.

He repeated his contention that he didn’t start the fund.

“It was an unspoken thing before,” he said.

That is not true, VanDam said.

“No one ever took money to go to lunch. No one took money out of the fund other than him,” she said.

The one exception, VanDam said, is when an employee used $80 from the fund for equipment on the village backhoe.

In January, village Trustees Richard Russell and Tom Balch brought the issue with the fund to the authorities. Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller had a grand jury investigate.

Shortly before the election, the jury, whose proceedings were secret, found nothing criminal in the situation. The investigation wasn’t publicized before the election, but Martinez said his foes spread the word to voters that he would be arrested.

Ross beat Martinez with 53 percent of the vote, an unusual feat for a write-in candidate.

Sacco-Miller said if Ashton’s new leadership uncovers anything new with the fund, the issue can be addressed again.

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