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A double standard?

Published: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 4:34 p.m. CDT

Please tell me where you can get a loan for thousands of dollars with just one requirement – pay it back when you can.

Struggling for an answer? Unless you are blessed with a rich uncle, you'll probably have to get a loan with a payment schedule.

Everyone knows that. Here's something else we all know: Public money is for public purposes only. It's not for people to take for their own use.

But that appears to be exactly what Dixon's former city engineer, Shawn Ortgiesen, did with his city-issued credit card. He racked up $13,525 in personal expenses on the card from April 2007 to March 2013. He had paid back only $4,890.

When this came to light in April, he lost his job and his reputation. But he's not going to face criminal charges. That's the recent decision of Lee County's top prosecutor, State's Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller.

"The evidence showed that Mr. Ortgiesen did not conceal or hide the charges," Sacco-Miller said in an email 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."

Well, yes, he did pay back all of the money – after he was caught. And permission? Sure, the mayor and a couple of city commissioners signed off on requisitions that included personal expenses (although they could easily have been construed as city expenses). For the expenses, Ortgiesen used the words "reimbursed," "to be reimbursed" or some variation in the requisitions, but it's not obvious what that means.

Did the officials actually agree to lend city money to help with Ortgiesen's private expenses? No one has admitted to that. And we have seen no evidence that Ortgiesen got express city permission.

"Borrowing without permission is always a crime no matter how you look at it," Sacco-Miller said in the email. "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."

In defending her decision, Sacco-Miller argues that the city had no policy for credit card use at the time. Does that really matter? Again, public money goes for public purposes, not for private expenses. It's not a hard concept – something that every government employee should know, especially one such as Ortgiesen, who made more than $100,000 a year and was often called the "de facto city manager."

Sacco-Miller's decision got a good reception from city officials.

"He did pay it back," Mayor Jim Burke said. "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 that."

Sounds good – until you realize others aren't so lucky. What about the guy who gets charged with theft or burglary? That person will likely lose his job and reputation, but he will face criminal sanctions if the police have enough evidence. Even if he gives back what he stole.

So did Sacco-Miller make the right call? The public needs more information before answering that question.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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