Metro-East News

Former water district head spent $500 at jewelry store, records show

The Pontoon Beach Public Water District office.
The Pontoon Beach Public Water District office.

Records show that the former manager of a metro-east public water district who is under FBI investigation used a district credit card to spend $500 at a jewelry store.

Credit card statements and other records of the Pontoon Beach Public Water District are under review by federal investigators. The investigation was launched in June after the water district board fired district manager Brian Buske, allegedly for “misappropriation of funds,” according to the district.

Credit card statements show that Buske was one of two cardholders for the district.

Buske did not return calls seeking comment.

Chris Hankins, chairman of the water district’s board, declined to comment on individual purchases made with the district’s credit cards. But he said the district “has cooperated fully” with the FBI’s investigation.

“Upon reviewing the records, there were transactions made that are not normally made by district employees,” Hankins wrote in a statement. “Currently, there is an active investigation going on, therefore, we do not wish to elaborate on which purchases were justified at this time.”

According to statements from the water district’s Bank of America credit card account, Buske spent $500 at Kay Jewelers on April 28. More than a month later, Buske’s nine-year employment with the district ended with a unanimous vote by the board.

The district is responsible for providing water to Pontoon Beach as well as surrounding areas in Madison County. A June 2015 financial report said it serviced 1,344 accounts. Hankins said the job of the district manager is “to oversee the day-to-day operations of the district, oversee other district employees, pay district bills, process payroll, maintain and submit monthly data to the EPA, oversee water sampling and work in the field as needed.”

An FBI investigation is ongoing, and no charges have been filed. Nathan Wyatt with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could not confirm or deny any action from his office until or unless charges are filed.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said he has informed law enforcement that if the U.S. Attorney’s Office declines to take the case, his office would consider the case. However, he said he has not yet seen specific reports.

The water district’s attorney, Tom Schooley, declined to comment on the investigation.

Credit card statements

At the Pontoon Beach Public Water District, two employees are given a company credit card. The district has an account under Bank of America.

Hankins, the board chairman, recently explained that employees are expected to use the credit card “to make purchases from places that the water district does not have a revolving line of credit for items in which they need to perform their day-to-day task.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Belleville News-Democrat received Bank of America credit card statements from December 2014 to June 2016. According to the statements, two district employees, Buske and Terry Kreher, were issued a company credit card with a $3,000 credit limit.

During the last year and a half of Buske’s employment, records indicate that he charged more than $15,700 to his company card, making many purchases at Casey’s General Store and Exxon Mobil in Pontoon Beach.

As part of the job, Hankins said employees drove a work truck owned by the district, a 2013 Ford F-250.

Buske also often made transactions at a U.S. Post Office in Granite City, Lowe’s in Granite City, and paid for a monthly Adobe Acrobat Pro subscription.

Records also show some one-time transactions made by Buske at camping and hunting retail stores, including a $509.99 purchase at Transactions at Kay Jewelers and were among some of the last ones Buske made with the district’s credit card account before the water district board opted to terminate his employment.

The credit card statements also showed purchases made by Kreher, the current office manager, who is still a cardholder, according to Hankins. From the end of 2014 to mid-2016, records showed Kreher also used a company card mainly at gas stations as well as stores such as Lowe’s and Walmart, spending more than $4,700 over a year and a half.

Hankins declined to state where its employees normally make purchases, but he said there were transactions on the statements that “are not normally made” by employees.

And while Hankins said the district manager is responsible for paying the bills, he also said the board has to approve the credit card bills during its meetings.

“The board approves the monthly bill list at their monthly meeting and directs any questions regarding the bills to the district manager,” Hankins said.

Kaitlyn Schwers: 618-239-2526, @kaitlynschwers; Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald