A Rock Island County highway foreman indicted on theft and misconduct charges made his first appearance in court Tuesday, while a former worker claims he tried to blow the whistle on him nearly 3 years ago.
Jim Geiger, the number three man in the county highway department is accused of taking fuel from county gas pumps and other tax-payer owned property for his own use.
“We’re going to get the discovery. There’s grand jury transcripts, hundreds of pages, so we’ll get those and know what we’re defending”, said Geiger’s defense attorney, Steve Hanna after court.
“There’s a lot of people supporting him, the community, co-workers supporting him”, Hanna said.
One former highway worker is not. He agreed to be interviewed by WQAD if his identity wasn’t disclosed. He says he regularly witnessed Mr. Geiger filling up 5 gallon cans with regular gasoline from the county pump, several at a time, and putting them in his truck. Several times a week.
“I told my lead man, what’s he filling up all these gas cans for, cause everything we have in the county is all diesel. You can’t use regular gas in the engines.”, he said.
He claims he told former County Board Chairman Jim Bohnsack at the county building about what he allegedly saw back in 2011.
“He turned around and told City Engineer John Massa, and after that I was terminated and I never got my job back”, he said. “All I was doing was looking out for some of the taxpayers money and wondering where the hell it was going”, he said.
He says he was not asked to testify in front of the grand jury last month which indicted Mr. Geiger.
Another former highway department worker has told WQAD that for many years, taking old guard rail and scrap metal from county job sites was viewed as a perk of the job and no big deal.
“It’s been a practice with all the foremen, we give dirt away, old guard rail. We help farmers out, we help civilians out, we go to management and they say, okay or not okay”, Earl Higgens said.
What should have happened though, says the whistleblower, is the material should have routinely been loaded up in a dumpster and sold, with the money going back to the county and taxpayers.
“How can you give away scrap when it doesn’t belong to you? You’re talking about a lot of money. I think the taxpayers should know what was transpiring with their tax dollars”, he said. “I’m not the only one who tried to tell them there were problems out there. They’ve been there a long time”.
Geiger is the only one charged criminally who works for the highway department. The charges only cover six months, from July through December of last year.
“What I can tell you is he allegedly took fuel, county property, and county services in excess of $500 up to $10,000 for his own personal gain”, said Rock Island County States Attorney John McGehee, shortly after the indictments were handed down last month.
In light of the indictment, new County Chairman Phil Banaszek has formed a subcommittee to look into the system of tracking gas at the county pumps, including investing in new gas pumps and gas card readers.
It will also look at revised rules and ways to track county-owned materials and equipment.