KANKAKEE — Labeling the Richard Simms’ federal indictment a “sad day for the City of Kankakee,” Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong stated that shortly after her April 2017 election, she began questioning Simms in regards to monthly expenses he was bringing to the city and the municipal sewer utility.
Simms, 73, the former executive director of the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency and the city’s Environmental Services Utility, was indicted Tuesday in Springfield on charges of defrauding the organizations of more than $2 million.
According to the indictment, the alleged misconduct occurred from 2014 through 2018.
The Daily Journal reported as early as March 2019 that Simms was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s office. The paper’s review of Simms’ dealing with KRMA began in November 2018.
In a one-page news release from Wells-Armstrong issued Wednesday afternoon, the mayor stated shortly after her mayoral election over then-Mayor Nina Epstein, she questioned the $66,000-a-month payments from the city and KRMA to Simms.
The mayor stated that following an extensive investigation by herself and others within the administration, payments to Simms were stopped. Simms retired from the city in April 2018.
The mayor stated she refused to pay the Simms’ invoices because “no answers were forthcoming from Simms that justified the compensation he was charging both entities.”
Represented by former city corporate counsel Chris Bohlen, Simms sued the city for payment of his last two invoices, according to a press release.
Wells-Armstrong noted the city has countersued Simms for $1.5 million he received from the city. She said it was her pursuit of the questionable payments, as well as bringing the issues to the U.S. Attorney, which led to the Department of Justice inquiry and the U.S. Attorney’s charges against Simms.
“The city will continue to pursue its civil action against Simms to recover the money that was paid to him and his firm,” she said “His payments were immediately questioned by me, but no adequate answers were received, so the payments were stopped, ending his employment with the city and KRMA.”
In the mayor’s statement, she also focused attention on Bohlen’s activity in the matter.
She stated prior to her questioning of Simms, Bohlen was in charge of the legal affairs of the city, “including the inner workings of KRMA and ESU.”
“Not only was Bohlen the city attorney representing the city when Simms began his fraudulent schemes in March 2014, he has now been representing Simms in a suit against the city in an effort to collect on his last two invoices,” she said.
Reached late Wednesday, Bohlen said he is confused as to why the mayor would target him.
“When I was corporate counsel for the city, we complied with the laws and statues of this state,” he said. “As far as I know, ESU and KRMA approved his checks. I had no supervision of either ESU or KRMA at any time,” he said.
Bohlen also noted the mayor hired Simms to stay on as executive director for the first year of her of her four-year term.
“He stayed on for the full year he promised to stay,” Bohlen said.