URBANA — A federal judge had harsh words for a former local official Monday as he handed down a sentence.
Before sentencing Richard Simms to nine months in federal prison and two years house arrest for stealing $2 million from the public coffers, U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce told the former executive director of the region’s wastewater treatment plant and Kankakee’s Environmental Services Utilities department that he had no honor or integrity.
He then ordered the 74-year-old Simms to report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 11, 2022. After serving his time in prison as part of a plea deal, Simms will be on three years supervised release.
Simms, who now lives in Marietta, Ohio, was also ordered to repay the approximate $1,257,000 improperly paid from ESU and $768,000 from Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, the region’s wastewater treatment plant, from the timeframe of October 2014 to April 2018.
KRMA is responsible for treating wastewater from its member municipalities: Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais and Aroma Park. It also treats wastewater from Manteno and Chebanse by intergovernmental agreement. ESU is the Kankakee department that oversees Kankakee’s public works and sewer system.
Simms agreed to plead guilty during his March 1 court date after being indicted on the fraud charge in August 2020.
The agreement brings to a conclusion an extended investigation of a man who was highly respected within the community during his tenure.
Bruce said it came down to age and health as to how he determined Simms’ sentencing.
Simm’s attorney, Alan Brunell of Orland Park, argued that Simms’ doctors said he has cancer. Also, in the argument for home confinement over jail time, Simms’ defense offered 33 letters from family, friends and pastors.
“I read those letters and many of those people were shocked and surprised,” Bruce said. “Even the letter from your wife, Janice, does not say anything about what you did.”
Judge Bruce added, “People gave you a standing ovation when you retired in 2018. They praised you. To me, you have no honor, you have no integrity.”
During the hearing, Bruce asked Simms if he wished to make a statement before sentencing.
“I choose to not make a statement,” Simms said before Bruce recessed the hearing for 10 minutes to finalize his decision.
U.S. Assistant District Attorney Eugene Miller argued for Simms to be sentenced to 30 months. Miller had Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore and City of Kankakee Comptroller Elizabeth Kubal read statements. Schore is a member of the board of directors of KRMA.
“As was his practice, Simms attended every monthly ESU committee meeting and every semi-monthly city council meeting. I also attended these meetings and I sat next to him for almost every city council meeting during our five-year tenure together at the city,” Kubal read from her statement.
“In numbers, this is about 180 meetings between both sets of meetings. I now wonder, was he sitting next to me and the others thinking how clever he was to be actively executing a fraudulent scheme under the noses of some highly intelligent people from within the City of Kankakee? Some of which were colleagues, friends and noted professionals within the community.
“The harm that Simms caused through not a single instance, but over a period of four-plus years was a decision he made repeatedly to hurt the city and ESU for his own personal gain.”
Schore said Simms had provided great knowledge and leadership since KRMA was founded in 1988.
“Given his professional and educational background, his history with KRMA, and his long tenure as KRMA’s executive director including during the recent plant upgrades, Mr. Simms had an intricate knowledge of the KRMA operation and understood the operations of KRMA better than any other person. KRMA board members — myself included — as well as KRMA employees, and KRMA accounting professionals placed a great deal of reliance upon Mr. Simms for his information and insights concerning all aspects of the KRMA operation,” Schore said.
“It turns out that we didn’t really know Mr. Simms,” he said. “The trusted advisor we thought we had was instead a man who used his deep institutional knowledge of KRMA for his own personal gain and the private enrichment of his family members. His abuse of trust for his own personal gain and the private gain of his family members resulted in the direct loss to KRMA of at least $768,000, money that Mr. Simms diverted to himself and his daughter.”
According to the court documents, Simms and his computer software development firm, Plum Flower International LTD, submitted payment invoices totaling $2,025,000.
Plum Flower is a company ran by Simms’ daughter, Anna.
Simms, however, never had approval from KRMA nor the ESU board of directors to spend this money for software development as the organizations never entered into contracts with him for this purpose.
During the five-year time frame in question, Simms received more than $2.5 million in salary and legitimate payments: approximately $1.1 million from KRMA and $1.6 from ESU.
Simms registered Plum Flower in March 2014 with the State of Illinois purportedly to develop a software application for medical companies to track medical records.
A federal investigation reported that although Simms did not have board approval or contracts with his engineering firm to develop software, he submitted fraudulent and inflated invoices to KRMA and ESU for software development. Simms is accused of circumventing KRMA’s invoice payment procedure by submitting invoices directly to its accounting firm. As a result of this practice, KRMA’s superintendent and administrative assistant did not approve or were unaware of the invoices.
Plum Flower used approximately $161,000 of the funds, federal documents showed, to pay another company to create a software application — called Eco App Pro — which they intended to sell on the open market. Most of the remaining funds were used for the personal benefit of Simms, according to court documents.