First reported 1/14/2010 3:46 p.m.

Charles Flowers, the embattled superintendent of the Cook County Regional Office of Education, is free on $100,000 bond after his arrest Thursday on felony theft and official misconduct charges. The arrest followed a yearlong financial crime investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney.

Flowers, 51, of Maywood, allegedly stole more than $10,000 from the regional office, with a total loss of about $376,000, according to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Flowers stands accused of stealing money from the Illinois State Board of Education, making cash advances to his sister and girlfriend, and using official credit cards for various personal expenses, including travel and food.

He’s also accused of using restricted funds to pay two assistant regional superintendents “consulting fees” of $9,000 and $12,000, despite their $80,000 annual salaries. Alvarez called Flower’s alleged crimes “brazen.”

“In this case we have an elected official who is supposed to be working for the taxpayers of Cook County, who apparently had the absurd notion that the taxpayers were working for him,” Alvarez said.

Flowers stood flanked by Cook County deputies in front of Judge Paula Daleo, as prosecutor Jim Lynch restated the charges against him. Flowers did not speak. His attorney, Tim Grace, attempted unsuccessfully to get his client’s bond lowered by half, arguing that Flowers spent his career in the service of children through education.

“This man has spent his entire career working for the children of Cook County,” Grace said. He also stated that all of the money advanced to district employees and all credit card charges of a personal nature had been repaid and that Flowers had documentation to prove it.

The state’s attorney’s office initiated a criminal probe of Flowers’ office in early 2009. A subsequent audit published by the state auditor general showed significant financial irregularities within the office. Last July, the state’s attorney executed a search warrant at Flowers’ home and at the regional office of education, seizing computers, payroll records and time sheets.

Flowers is a former special education teacher and administrator. He served as president of Maywood and Melrose Park School District 89 prior to being elected to the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education. In November 2006, he was elected regional superintendent, beating Republican incumbent Robert Ingraffia with more than 61 percent of the vote.

However, Flowers declined to resign from the Dist. 209 board, and in June, 2007, the Dist. 209 board voted 5-1 to declare his seat vacant.

As regional superintendent, Flowers was tasked with the administration of teacher certification and background checks and fingerprinting services for 25,000 educators in the county’s 143 school districts. The office is also responsible for administering state office of education mandates locally.

Flowers tenure as the regional superintendent has been rocky. His office is some $1 million in debt. After a series of fiscally questionable practices, Flowers went to the county board seeking a $190,000 loan. The county has since filed a civil lawsuit seeking restitution of the loan, which has not been repaid. The suit alleges that Flowers intended to defraud the county, engaged in breach of contract and breached a $190,000 promissory note.

Last summer the Cook County board formally took a no-confidence vote in Flowers and called for the abolition of the regional superintendent’s office. Around that time, State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-57) of Desplaines sponsored a bill that aims to abolish the Cook County regional office of education and transfer all its powers and duties to the State Board of Education.

In November, Flowers vacated his Westchester office in the face of eviction for nonpayment of more than $10,000 in back rent. On Nov. 11, Broadview village officials closed his new office due to Flowers not having obtained a business license and occupancy permit. He managed to re-open his offices last week.

River Forest resident and political activist Bruno Behrend is a critic of the state’s education system. He called the theft allegations against Flowers “the tip of the iceberg, a brazen example of clear wrongdoing.”

“From time to time things like this crop up that demonstrate there’s a problem,” he said. “It’s more than just the extra layers of bureaucracy in the regional superintendent’s office. There are examples everywhere. It’s statewide.”

Bob Uphues, editor of the Riverside Brookfield Landmark, contributed to this report.

Web Extra

To view this document you might need the free .pdf reader from Adobe. You can download it by clicking here.

Join the discussion on social media!