ROCKFORD — The former Winnebago County Purchasing Director pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Kapala to two counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds. SALLY A. CLAASSEN, 57, of Roscoe, Ill., was an employee of Winnebago County from March 3, 1997, until she resigned on Sept. 11, 2015. Claassen’s job title prior to her resignation was Purchasing Director.
According to the written plea agreement, as Purchasing Director for Winnebago County, Claassen was responsible for receiving and reviewing invoices submitted by vendors and submitting payment to vendors. As stated in the plea agreement, from Feb. 25, 2014 through April 27, 2015, Claassen used her position as the approver for payments from Winnebago County to vendors to steal approximately $368,137 from the County. Claassen admitted that she accomplished this theft by asking two Winnebago County vendors to submit false invoices to Winnebago County for work that was not performed, which Claassen then paid with County funds. Claassen then directed the two vendors to provide her with checks made out to “Cash” or to “JP Morgan Chase” for the full amounts that the vendors were paid. As Claassen further admitted, she told the two vendors that she needed them to submit the false invoices and then provide her with the checks for the full amount of the payments to help her allocate Winnebago County money to a project being funded by a charitable organization. In reality, Claassen stole the money by depositing the checks into her personal bank accounts. One of the vendors provided Claassen with 5 checks that totaled $45,000. The other vendor provided Claassen with 7 checks that totaled $323,137. No money given to Claassen by either vendor was ever used for the purpose for which she told the vendors that it was to be used.
As further stated in the plea agreement, in her position as Purchasing Director, Claassen held a Winnebago County-issued credit card that she was authorized to use to make purchases for official County business. Claassen was required to submit invoices and supporting documentation to the County to demonstrate that items purchased were for County business. Claassen also had the ability to purchase items for Winnebago County by requesting that Winnebago County issue a check to a particular vendor. Claassen was required to submit invoices and supporting documentation to Winnebago County to demonstrate that the requested check was to be used to purchase items for Winnebago County business. Claassen admitted in the plea agreement that from April 15, 2014 to July 1, 2015, she used her Winnebago County-issued credit card and checks from Winnebago County to purchase items for her personal use, including home remodeling items and personal vacations. Claassen admitted she primarily accomplished this by either using her Winnebago County-issued credit card to make personal purchases and then submitting false or altered supporting documentation so the County would pay for the charges, or modifying or creating false invoices and submitting them to Winnebago County so the County would issue a check for the purchase.
According to the plea agreement, as an example of using the Winnebago County-issued credit card to accomplish the theft, on Jan. 29, 2015, Claassen used the credit card at a local vendor to purchase granite countertops for her kitchen in the amount of $6,109. While the sales order for this purchase listed the customer as Claassen at her home address, on Feb. 12, 2015, Claassen submitted an altered version of the sales order to the County listing Winnebago County as the customer with an altered description of the items purchased.
Another example in the plea agreement was that on May 20, 2014, Claassen ordered approximately $13,214 worth of furniture for her home and gift cards from a vendor. The sales order provided to Claassen noted that the customer was Claassen at her home address and listed various items of furniture that had been ordered. On the same date, Claassen caused an employee in her department to submit a request for Winnebago County to issue a payment by check to that vendor in the amount of $13,125. In the plea agreement, Claassen admitted that with the request she submitted an altered sales order from that vendor that listed Winnebago County as the customer with an altered description of the items purchased.
In total, using these methods, it is the government’s position in the plea agreement that Claassen stole approximately $451,353 from Winnebago County in 2014 and 2015. In the plea agreement, Claassen reserved the right to dispute this amount. Claassen also agreed in the plea agreement to the entry of a forfeiture judgment to the United States all right, title, and interest that she has in any property constituting or derived from proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly and further agreed not to contest forfeiture of approximately $292,525 already seized by the United States.
On each count Claassen faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from that offense, whichever is greater, and full restitution. In addition, Claassen faces a term of supervised release of up to 5 years following imprisonment. Claassen remains free on her own recognizance pending sentencing, which U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Kapala set for September 13, 2016, at 9:30 a.m.
The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Michael J. Anderson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret J. Schneider.