Show me the money, Country Club Hills

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This is a joint investigation by WGN Investigates and the Better Government Association.

Like many a small town, gossip and rumors pass from block to block in south suburban Country Club Hills.

Toss in a recent election and any hint of financial impropriety is sure to be the talk of the town.

Mayor Dwight Welch: “A good businessman has to spend money to make money.”

It’s been two years since a WGN-Better Government Association investigation raised serious questions about the Mayor Dwight Welch’s credit card spending.

Treasurer Rhonda Williams: “It’s a wedding gift, $100.”

Then the next year, the newly elected treasurer couldn’t trace millions more for a time.

Today’s Hearing John Murphy;  “I don’t have the council’s authority.”

Now, today, the town is in state court battling over $6.5 million. You see, Cook County made a multi-million dollar mistake sending Country Club Hills way too much property tax collection money.  The county wants it back.

But the town can’t seem to get its act together.  And as you can see, the attorney wouldn’t talk to us.  But the treasurer did.

Rhonda Williams: “The money has to be paid back. We spent it. We knew it wasn’t ours and it has to be paid back. That’s the bottom line.”

But paying back the county’s money may be just the beginning.  We obtained a confidential audit of country club hill’s finances.  It found, rather than 17 city bank accounts, there were 30 many not known to the treasurer or the city council.

Rhonda Williams: “I warned residents. I warned the state. I warned everyone that the numbers weren’t matching up and here with the forensic audit showing I was correct.”

Another city account included the Matthew Welch scholarship foundation named after the mayor’s son who died.  The audit raised red flags.  Some of the money went to scholarships for the relatives of certain city employees and city vendors.  And that the finance committee doesn’t appear to have approved the expenditures.

What’s more: last year the bank stopped sending statements to city hall and instead sent them to the mayor’s home.

Rhonda Williams: “What’s key about that account was that it was set up under the city’s tax id number. It’s a city account and that’s something we have to deal with thru forensic review.”

The financial audit has been the talk of the town since city elections two weeks ago.  After some juicy select sections of the audit leaked, it pitted council members against each other as voters went to the polls.

Alderman Steve Burris: “So if you hide information from us and we make votes then we’re in the dark. So just be truthful and be transparent. Give us all the information and then we can make intelligent votes on all the situations that are going on.”

Roland Burris’s nephew, Steve said the audit shows something’s fishy.  His opponent, James Ford who has the mayor’s backing, blamed Burris for the audit leak before Election Day.

Alderman James Ford:  “Of course I’m concerned as an alderman. I’m concerned for the citizens i represent. But i need to have facts and since we did hire an audit firm, they need to come forward and present that information to the council as a whole.”

The drama continued up until the day before the election ballots were counted when the mayor vetoed finishing the audit.  And even though the mayor’s man won the council seat, before he could start his job, the old council over-rode the veto, so the audit will continue.

Andy Shaw leads the Better Government Association (BGA) and says “an audits not enough. We need people with law enforcement powers to determine if this has been criminal activity. It’s certainly bad municipal behavior, bad government, its misconduct, its dysfunction and the taxpayers have a right to see if there’s been illegality.”

Mayor Welch, through a PR firm, responded that the city council chose to make the treasurer and council member Burris the sole point people for the financial audit.  So it’s out of his hands.  The statement went on to say the city has paid back a third of what it owes Cook County with more to come.

The mayor contends the scholarship fund in his son’s name was not set up under city jurisdiction. Which is why this audit may be so important because there’s so many different stories about the money.

This was a WGN and Better Government Association investigation.

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  • one of many

    Wasn’t the money in the scholarship fund obtained by Welch setting up special seating at the money-losing city-owned theater so that city / citizens’ money thru ticket sales was CONVERTED to the mayor’s use in the fund? Doesn’t the mayor donate thousands of citizens’ dollars away every year so that he can look like a big shot? Didn’t the mayor become uncommunicative and even defiant at the Cook Co Treasurer’s requests for the return of the overpayment? Why wasn’t the money returned then, only a few weeks after the overpayment was made? Could it be that the city was already broke and he needed that money to appear to keep things going? With the city’s back-breaking tax rate, why is the mayor OK with citizens having to pay this same tax for a SECOND TIME!?
    And why hasn’t the state’s attorney charged Welch with violation of the public trust and official misconduct?
    Inquiring minds (and empty wallets) want to know ! .

  • Martha

    Mayor Welch has been taking the city’s taxpayer dollars and using them as his own for 28 years because he feels that the people who live there, who are primarily African-America, are, well, STUPID. We don’t have a LIBRARY. On Election Day, only about 20 percent of the people VOTE. So Welch feels the city and its residents are easy pickings. And for the people who see what is going on and want to address it during council meetings, Mayor Welch simply has them THROWN OUT, ignoring the Open Meetings Act. And when residents write letters to the Illinois Attorney General about how the people at the meetings are thrown out and not allowed to record the meetings, also a violation of the Open Meetings Act, NOTHING IS DONE AT ALL. It’s like Mayor Welch KNOWS that people are willing to look the other way at how he is running the city, as if they are also in on it, too. And when Mayor Welch misappropriated over $6.6 million dollars of cook county’s funds, people don’t realize that not that long ago, he used to be IN CHARGE OF COOK COUNTRY’S ACCOUNTAING, which shows he knows accounting, how to SWITCH MONEY, how to keep it, how to HIDE it and put it in an interest-bearing account, without people knowing about it, and so on. When he got caught, he practically spit in Maria Papas’ face and question her ability and acted as if SHE was the vilan. Then he realized that Country Club HIlls’ taxpayer’s would be gulible enough to KNOW that he mis-spend the money — and they would pay the money TWICE, because they don’t know any better. Why do so many other politicians go to jail for stealing tens of thousands of dollars and here you have sleazy Mayor Dwight Welch who just misappropriated $6.6 million dollars, has several bank accounts that only he knows about and then he creates a non-profit organization in his dead son’s name so he can give his campaign contributors even more money —- and this crook isn’t in jail? Mayor Dwight Welch isn’t the only crook here. It’s the people who had looked the other way and haven’t charged him. ……. $6.6 million dollars goes a LONG way.

    • one of many

      CCH DOES have a library – Grand Prairie, just down the street from the eastern edge of town. People just have to make some small effort to get their and their childrens’ behinds up there. Maybe ride-share adults or car-pool a bunch of kids together once or twice a week. No town can be all things to all people and Grand Prairie was the compromise. CCH reisdents pay taxes for it – it IS our library.

  • Candance

    whats sad is the taxes people pay now are just shameful. 14000a year and up, in some cases 18000a year that amount of taxes with nothing to show for. No library- the school districts are failing, the budget is out of control, where is all that money going?. people are being taxed into foreclosure lives being ruined, and with taxes that high who wants to move in the neighborhood?

    • one of many

      Failing school districts have nothing to do with the city. City taxes do NOT support the schools. The schools are separate taxing bodies. If we want better schools, we must attend the school board meetings and hold them responsible. Look at the 2nd installment of your property tax bill mailed out in the fall of each year. It details how much you pay to the school districts. If we're unhappy with those amounts and / or the school's performance, we MUST attend school board meetings, speak out and hold them accountable.

  • Johnny P

    The citizens are still wondering how in the world can this mayor keep buying his girlfriend and her mother luxury cars, they live in the poorest part of the town and yet have cars more expensive than most homes in that area.
    Brand new 100,000 Range Rover, 80,000 Jaguar for his other girlfriend, and a 50,000 Acura sedan for the girlfriends mother.
    Cars were bought from the campaign funds yet there is no accountability. lol

  • Carmen

    The City clerk is as guilty as the mayor, accessory to everything the mayor does, all political work is done at city hall by these duo on city dime, a few employees are staunch campaign workers and will jump on every order the mayor barks. As a resident of cch i see his legacy coming to an end, sure he brought a lot of prosperity in this community but it amounts to nothing compared to how much corruption is going on.
    Hopefully the WGN investigation will open some secrets especially for his sons foundation which was a front to siphon money into. This forensic audit if true will definitely be his political demise.
    As the previous commentator said it perfect, a respectable mayor doesnt do what he does, flaunting little babies to every city event, extra special perks to his girlfriends mother who happens to be the most arrogant , obnoxious, and a disrespectful person. This person thinks that she own CCH and Provincetown. THe citizens are sick and tired of this, I suggest the WGN team park on the street and interview all the employees, someone will definitely give them a great scoop.

  • Michael

    Welsh was a dirty cop back in the 70's when our family lived in that city. It's amazing he's lasted this long… I look from far away hoping he has his day in court with the state against him for a change…