This past month, former Joint Parks Superintendent James F. Svoboda III was formally charged with eight felonies including theft, forgery and misconduct in public office for his alleged embezzlement of over $300,000 of public money.
The charges were filed about a month ago on Dec. 20 and Svoboda’s case is making its way through the legal system now. But it’s much more than a legal case. It should be a lesson for all businesses, nonprofits and governmental bodies about the importance of checks and balances.
Mount Pleasant and Caledonia are working to right the wrongs, and to create more oversight for the future. Clearly, it’s something that should have been done well before now.
This case gives us all a chance to step back evaluate how another case like this can be prevented.
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For starters, if a board has financial oversight, all members should know from day one what that means. Many times boards don’t take the time to ensure all members understand their oversight responsibilities and that needs to happen.
Here are a few ways Svoboda was able to allegedly steal over $300,000, according to his criminal complaint:
- During the course of the investigation, officials learned Svoboda was the sole agent for the Kraut Music Festival account at Educator’s Credit Union. After reviewing the account, officials estimate that from March 2017 until February 2019, $21,132.26 was transferred from the festival’s account to Svoboda’s personal account.
- Investigators also found photocopies of checks deposited by Svoboda into his personal account. Most of the checks were made to Svoboda and were specified that they were payments for park pavilion rentals, field fees and burial expenses. One check from the Racine Area Soccer Association for $5,000 to go toward construction of a fence was deposited into Svoboda’s personal account on Oct. 15, 2015.
- Officials found that Svoboda altered cemetery plot deeds by removing the requirement that the Caledonia Village President and clerk sign off on the form. Instead Svoboda’s signature was sufficient.
- As part of his involvement with Mount Pleasant Campus Park, Svoboda arranged for payments of memorial park benches, for which he allegedly received $5,189.84 as well as a cash donation of $675. The village ordered the benches but payment was not verified or received.
- Numerous purchases at Menards were invoiced to Caledonia for an electric stove, lumber, windows, home electronics and repairs and upgrades investigators believe were to Svoboda’s private residence.
Svoboda appeared to have been a likeable guy and, on the surface, people had no reason not to trust him. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be oversight. Someone needs to be looking over the books and reviewing invoices. Two people need to be signing checks and there shouldn’t be one sole agent on an account. Hindsight is 20/20 and in this case, this alleged fraud should have been prevented.
But just as important is that it doesn’t happen again in other places. That is why other organizations should take steps now to prevent future fraud.