Sangamon Co. (ECWd) -
Over a year ago we began investigating self-dealing by the Rochester Fire Protection District Chief, John Archer, who also owns A.E.C., a local fire equipment company. Numerous articles can be found at this link. Our findings resulted in a criminal investigation that has turned out to be filled with misinformation and in some cases outright lies. For example, during the criminal investigation, the ISP reported that the Chief stated: "The Rochester Fire Protection District is going to have to spend a lot more money now that they are not doing business with AEC."
Turns out that claim does not hold any water and in fact, the actual fire equipment purchase invoices point to the quite the opposite being true.
For example, in 2019, Archer's company billed the FPD for over $13,000.00. Archer stopped doing business with the Department after March of 2020, which during those three short months of the year resulted in $5,338.38 in invoices. The remaining 9 months of the year fire equipment purchases were done with companies other than A.E.C. Those 9 months resulted in a whopping $2,654.56 of actual fire equipment-related purchases from similar type suppliers as A.E.C. Of those purchases, the FPD paid $26.31 in sales tax, which they should not have considering they are tax exempt.
Comparing the 9 months in 2020 to the same 9 month period in 2019 turns out the actual spending with other vendors was about 1/5th of what it was with A.E.C. The purchases April-December of 2019 to A.E.C totaled $10,543.06 where the same time frame in 2020 where fire equipment purchases were made with other vendors totaled $2,654.56. When reviewing the invoices you will see other purchases made but were not the typical Fire Equipment type purchases common to A.E.C. Even with those purchases included, the total for the like period is still well below $10,543.06. (See invoices here)
The reason we are pointing this out is because of the numerous people who chose to insert themselves into the conversation at meetings and insisted stopping doing business with A.E.C. is going to cost the department money. To date, those arguments fail.
Board President Bill Riggs, who has chosen not to run again, told the ISP that he "does not think spending with AEC went up after Archer took over as chief." Invoices to A.E.C reflect Archer's first year of self-dealing prior to becoming the Chief amounted to just over $11,000.00 in sales. That more than doubled his second year to just over $26,500.00 in sales. We can only wonder if Riggs ever paid attention to what the actual totals were from year to year prior to Archer becoming the Chief.
According to records obtained from the Pawnee Fire Protection District, which Archer was a Chief Officer of, his company did over $200,000.00 in business with A.E.C in the ten years he was with that department. In 2005 alone sales with his own company topped $71,000.00.
The ISP reports that Archer stated: "No one had mentioned this was in violation of the Fire Protection District Act until Trustee Martin Fairchild brought it up in a board meeting a few months ago." While it may be true no one mentioned the violation of the law to Archer, it was raised as a concern with the District's Attorney not once, not twice, but three times. Board President Riggs ignored those warnings, which we detailed in this article.
While there are numerous holes in the claims made by members of the Rochester FPD Board and employees, which the ISP never followed up to get to the whole truth, the Sangamon County States Attorney has issued their closing letter in this matter and determined there is "insufficient evidence to prove a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt".
Paying close attention to the closing letter, the fact is the ISP investigation concluded the alleged conduct did not "appear" to have been undertaken with any criminal purpose. It was that documented conclusion that leaves the State's Attorney with a case they can not win. What that means is the ISP not only investigated, they inserted their legal opinion on the matter which would create an unprosecutable case. It is not the ISP's place to insert their legal opinion but rather it is their job to investigate and turn over the FACTS to the appropriate prosecutor to make a determination whether to charge or not.
What was ignored and or not followed up by the ISP, in this case, were numerous conflicting statements from those questioned that include the Chief himself pointing to a conflict, which points to his knowledge there is a problem.
ISP conclusion from Archer questioning: "Throughout the process of being appointed chief nobody told him he should not be chief because it was a conflict of interest with him owning AEC."
That is a cryptic answer because the issue is not about him being Chief and owning a company. The issue is about being Chief and doing business with your own company. That point is clear, as it stands, he is still the Chief and still owns A.E.C. The key is he no longer is doing business with himself.
Matt Sunderland stated to the ISP: "When Chief Archer was named chief, he approached Sunderland and told him that he needed purchases to for the department to go through someone else due to a potential conflict of interest."
Nobody needed to tell Archer it was a conflict of interest because he knew it was according to his own Captain. The shifting of purchasing to others clearly points to knowledge of a conflict of interest, especially when it's confirmed as the reason it was done.
What has been signaled to the public with this case is you can violate the law but as long as you have no knowledge of it or criminal intent then your good to go. So much for the long history of ignorance of the law is no excuse.
At this time, the States Attorney will not prosecute and we doubt this case would be open up for any further investigation of the conflicting claims by witnesses, including those of the Chief and FPD Board President Bill Riggs.
It should be noted that Marty Fairchild appears to be the only FPD Trustee that was actually reading the law and trying to ensure it was followed. Rather than recognize that positive effort, the other Trustees and department members chose to dogpile on Fairchild for upsetting what appears to be the good-old-boys club.
A copy of the complete ISP investigation file can be downloaded at this link or viewed below.
A copy of the Sangamon County State's Attorney letter can be downloaded at this link or viewed below.