Leaders of the city's American Legion are looking for answers -- and a whole lot of money -- after a payment of more than $400,000 from the city of Columbia is missing.
According to leaders of the organization, Columbia American Legion post leaders struck a deal to sell the ground at 375 E. Locust where it owned about 15 acres which served as home to 11 baseball fields. Post leaders said they agreed to sell the land because the organization could no longer afford to pay to keep up the diamonds.
The money was transferred from the city to a title company. But the title company never completed the transfer of the funds to the American Legion. Both city leaders and leaders of the American Legion are trying to find out where the money went and how to get it to the organization.
"We continue to deal not with the local title company but with the one that provides the underwriting," Columbia City Administrator Al Hudzik said. "The city attorney is working at this point to do everything we can to get this situation resolved amicably."
Hudzik said the closing on the property took place on Aug. 7.
"We wired on Aug. 6 slightly over $400,000," Hudzik said. "All of the documentation was signed by representatives from both sides."
He said the city expected the funds to be sent Aug. 8 but for some reason they were not.
The title work was handled by Metro East Title Co. which has offices in Belleville and Columbia. A company representative could not be reached for comment.
The city had leased the site for several years from the American Legion, Hudzik said. It maintained the property during that time.
"It was costing us more money than we could afford to maintain them," American Legion manager Don Gruber said. "When you have to hire someone to mow all that grass, it gets pretty expensive. We used to have the equipment and do it ourselves. But the people here are getting older and have less time to do those kinds of things."
The sale, which was funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, was expected to allow the site to be used as athletic fields in perpetuity, Hudzik said.
Hudzik said he doesn't know why the money is missing.
"Once we found that the money was not being transferred, we reported it to the police department and they're currently investigating the situation," Hudzik said.
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