Target of whistleblowing lawsuit says no comment

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The head of a job-training agency, being sued by three former workers who say they were fired after revealing alleged wrongdoing, says he's been instructed not to talk about the lawsuit.

"Because it's in litigation, we really can't comment on it," said Mark Lohman at his office on Tuesday. "Phil Banaszek has said the same thing."

Rock Island County Chairman Banaszek, Lohman, Rock Island County, and several oversight boards are named in a whistleblowing lawsuit by former employees at Partners in Job Training and Placement agency, headed by Lohman since April 2012.

Carol Slavish was abruptly let go without warning by letter after working for the agency 30 years.

"I was fired for reporting suspected misappropriation of funds," Slavish said in an interview at attorney  John Doak's office.

Slavish and two other women say they tried to tell county bosses about improper billing in the office after Lohman took over, but no one would listen. The county administers the state and federal funding for the agency, and appoints the oversight board and the agency's director.

The lawsuit maintains all three were fired on the same day, and told it was due to budget cuts during sequestration. Three days earlier, a memo shows Lohman reported to the oversight board that the agency was in good financial condition, and the federal government would have no impact on the budget with no layoffs.

County chairman Banaszek said Tuesday he had heard about the lawsuit, but not seen it.

"The terminations were entirely his (Lohman's) decision," Banaszek said, and said grants run out and layoffs are necessary from "time to time."

The lawsuit includes an audit done by the Illinois Commerce Department which raised red flags over Lohman's salary, bonuses and mileage reimbursements.  The state ordered Lohman and county to pay back more than $16,000.

"These costs ($888, $15,400, all reimbursements for commuting expenses, $515.87 for duplicate mileage claims) are hereby disallowed and must be refunded to the state with non-federal funds," said the Department of Commerce report.  "Please forward a check to DCEO for the above mentioned transactions and dollar amounts."

Lohman was a former member of the Workforce Development Board which oversees the PJTP. After its director was disabled to due to stroke, Lohman was appointed to the agency by then County Board Chairman Jim Bohnsack.

The suit shows Lohman was initially paid a consulting fee of $3,300 per month.

Four months later, he received a raise of $900 more per month.  Four months later, he received a one-time bonus of $5,600 in addition to his monthly salary, with a $700-per-month raise thereafter.

The suit says Lohman and Bohnsack also entered into an agreement to pay him mileage for commuting to and from work and his private business, engaging in "actions contrary to financial regulations law" and "state and federal restrictions on the use of grant funds."

The suit also says he submitted requests for reimbursement twice for the same trip.

The women are asking for their jobs back, back pay and damages in excess of $50,000.