DIXON – The former city engineer who spent more than $13,000 on personal expenses with a city-issued credit card will not face criminal charges.
Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said Friday that she will not bring charges against Shawn Ortgiesen.
Ortgiesen, who also was the city’s personnel and public works director, resigned after it was revealed April 8 that he racked up $13,521.14 in personal expenses on the card from April 2007 to March.
Sacco-Miller said nothing in the investigation was considered “criminal in nature,” after reviewing the evidence with Sterling Police Lt. Tim Morgan. The case was given to Sterling Police to avoid any conflict of interest.
Dixon officials said Friday they felt the decision was fair.
At the time his misuse of the city credit card was revealed, Ortgiesen had paid back $4,890.31, meaning he owed $8,630.83. With his resignation April 16, he attached a check for the remaining balance and interest calculated at 5 percent, totaling $9,157.38.
As common practice, Ortgiesen filed requisitions recording his credit card expenses.
On the 31 requisitions received by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request, Ortgiesen wrote “to be reimbursed” next to several items on 27 of them, noting the expenses were for personal purchases, which included hotel expenses, meal charges and cash advances, among other items.
City commissioners or Dixon Mayor Jim Burke signed off on at least six of those requisitions. The others were not signed.
“The evidence showed that Mr. Ortigesen did not conceal or hide the charges,” Sacco-Miller said in an email Friday to Sauk Valley Media. “In fact, the evidence showed that he obtained permission from his superiors for the charges and ultimately paid all the charges back to the city.”
Sacco-Miller said she would not have been able to prove theft or official misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt.
To prove a theft, she said, she must prove Ortgiesen took money without authority and that he did so with the intent to “permanently deprive the city of its use of property.”
“He was given authority to charge for personal use as long as he paid it back,” Sacco-Miller said. “He ultimately paid all of the charges back with interest.”
To prove official misconduct, she said, she would have to prove that he exceeded his authority or violated an official policy.
“As he had permission from his superiors and there was no official credit card policy, I don’t, in good faith, believe I can prove this charge as well,” the state’s attorney said.
She added: “’Borrowing’ without permission is always a crime no matter how you look at it. However, if you are given authority by the person who has control over the property, and you return the property as you agreed when you borrowed it, it is not a crime.”
No grand jury was sought for the case, Sacco-Miller said, because there has to be “some belief that a criminal act occurred.” She doesn’t feel the probable cause existed in this case.
“Clearly, this was a poor practice for the city to follow, and I am not condoning the behavior of Mr. Ortgiesen,” Sacco-Miller said. “It is my understanding that the city is working to establish policies to prevent this practice in the future. There is no doubt that the taxpayers’ money should not be used in this manner.”
Sacco-Miller said this matter was different from the case featured in Sauk Valley Media against former Pekin Mayor Lyndell Howard.
Howard used the city’s credit card to obtain more than $1,400 in cash advances to play video poker and paid the bill when it came due. He was indicted for official misconduct.
Sacco-Miller said Howard was not given permission to do so, and that made all the difference in charges being filed.
Also, Sacco-Miller initially said in her email, “the city of Dixon is not requesting a criminal prosecution in this matter due to the reasons stated above.”
Sauk Valley Media replied with an email question: “Who from the city recommended no charges be filed? Was this in a letter to your office, discussed in person, etc.?”
Sacco-Miller responded, “Telephone discussions with Chief and Attorney and statements made at City Council meetings.”
When asked what statements made at council meetings she was referring to, Sacco-Miller answered: “Basically the statements that were made when [Ortgiesen] resigned that they considered the matter concluded.”
No comments have been made openly by city officials during council meetings regarding charges against Ortgiesen.
Both Police Chief Danny Langloss and City Attorney Rob LeSage said they have not had any conversations with Sacco-Miller regarding a city request.
“The last conversation I had with the state’s attorney and her assistant was that we were going to outsource the case, because the city saw there was a possibility of criminal activity,” said Langloss, who said he was not aware Friday that charges were not going to be filed. “After that, we stayed away from it. We didn’t want to have any influence on it.”
Sacco-Miller corrected herself later Friday in a telephone conversation, saying that with her comments she meant that nobody from the city asked her to prosecute the case.
She said her last call to the city was to ask if there was anything more than credit card invoices to add to the case.
Langloss said the last conversation Sacco-Miller had with LeSage was that the evidence in the invoices would not likely be enough to warrant charges, and LeSage responded “we’ve uncovered all that we’ve uncovered.”
With that said, Langloss said city officials cooperated fully with the investigation.
When asked directly if the city had any influence on the case, Sacco-Miller said “no.”
Mayor Jim Burke agreed with the state’s attorney’s decision, and said that he did not believe Ortgiesen had a malicious intent.
“It was a mistake on his part,” Burke said. “He did pay it back. ... I can see no benefit with charging him with a crime. He has been punished big time. Loss of job, loss of reputation, which was his own fault, but I don’t think he needs a felony charge on top of all that.
“I know there’s a lot of people in the community that don’t agree with it. There’s a lot of people in the community irritated with Shawn. He was a very, in spite of everything that happened, valuable asset to the community and to the city government.”
Commissioners Dennis Considine and Colleen Brechon agreed.
“It’s a fair decision,” Considine said. “[Ortgiesen] never tried to defraud anyone. He just made a poor judgment.”
“My gut reaction is that I’m very happy with that decision,” Brechon said. “I think it’s a fair thing to do, because there have been a bit of mixed messages given to him.”
Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said he would have been all right with whatever Sacco-Miller decided.
“I’m not thrilled, not sad. It’s just an unfortunate part of government that happened,” Kuhn said. “We just have to move on. I hope Shawn’s able to do that, too.”
Commissioner David Blackburn did not return an email or phone calls. He has said in the past that he will share his public comments at council meetings.
While it did not have a credit card policy before Ortgiesen’s misuse, the city since has adopted regulations that mandate that credit cards must be used for city business.
The mayor or a commissioner is required to sign off on each requisition. Documentation, such as receipts and explanation of charges, must be filed with the finance director, and the city’s credit cards cannot be used for cash advances for any reason.