Centreville mayor's secretary charged with stealing from jobs program

News-DemocratMay 6, 2013 

The Centreville mayor's secretary was charged Monday with three counts of bribery and state benefits fraud related to a jobs program intended to help poor people find work during the recession.

Patricia Cross Hicks, 49, secretary of Centreville Mayor Marius "Mark" Jackson, was expected to surrender at the St. Clair County Jail Monday afternoon following charges being issued by State's Attorney Brendan Kelly. Charges were related to use of stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that were intended for the Put Illinois to Work program.

The program was intended to benefit the unemployed in the areas hit hardest by the recession during 2010. In March three program participants from Centreville were also charged. Tiffany Jefferies, 25, and Willie Cox, 22, each were charged with three counts of bribery and a count of theft. Danyelle Radford, 37, was charged with theft and state benefits fraud.

Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago contracted with the Lessie Bates Neighborhood Center to manage the program locally. Lessie Bates Executive Director William Kreeb reported potential abuse shortly after the program began.

The investigation is ongoing and is being handled by the Illinois State Police and FBI, Kelly said.

"This was a combined federal and state investigation of the abuse of tax dollars -- tax dollars which were supposed to be helping put people to work during a very difficult economic time for our country," Kelly said. "I have some serious concerns about the apparently weak oversight by Heartland Alliance and the ease with which multiple violations occurred in this situation."

The jobs program paid out $18.5 million in gross wages to about 2,500 temporary employees in St. Clair, Madison, Calhoun and Monroe counties over the course of the 10-month program, according to local program records. Lessie Bates received $1.9 million.

Statewide, 27,000 people were employed under the program from April 2010 to January 2011. Heartland was allocated about $280 million in federal stimulus and state money, with Lessie Bates serving as one of 26 subcontractors across the state that connected workers with employers.

State records show Heartland and its subcontractors received about $40 million for administering and managing the program.

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