Charles Flowers, the beleaguered suburban regional school superintendent, brazenly used his taxpayer-funded credit cards for personal expenses and doled out cash advances to his sister and girlfriend, whom he placed on his payroll, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Thursday.
Prosecutors alleged Flowers stole $376,000 in public money from the bankrupt Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education. He was held in custody Thursday after he surrendered to authorities on charges of theft and official misconduct.
"Within months of taking office, this man engaged in a bold and brazen scheme to defraud. It is a repulsive example of public corruption," Alvarez said. "In this case, we have an elected official who is supposed to be working for the taxpayers of Cook County, who apparently had the absurd notion that the taxpayers were working for him."
Flowers, 51, began his term as regional superintendent in July 2007. The office is responsible for overseeing teacher certifications, local school grants, background checks and fingerprinting for public school teachers and employees in suburban Cook County.
According to prosecutors, Flowers made numerous cash advances and credit card purchases that were of a "purely personal nature." They included using his office-issued credit card to buy nearly $800 in plane tickets for his children to travel to Mississippi, authorities said. Flowers also charged thousands of dollars at expensive restaurants and for car rentals and limousine services, authorities said.
"If that was done, he personally paid that money back," his lawyer, Tim Grace, said. "Dr. Flowers possibly made some bad decisions, but they are minor issues."
Flowers also allegedly used office funds to unlawfully make cash advances to employees that were never fully repaid. Those advances included $9,000 to his girlfriend, whom he hired as a school compliance liaison, and $6,000 to his sister, whom he hired as his executive administrative assistant, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Flowers used restricted grant funds to pay two office employees more than $21,000 in consulting fees. Those fees were in addition to their annual salaries of more than $80,000 each, officials said. The investigation alleged that the consultant services were never performed.
Flowers and the agency are fighting a civil suit brought in July by the state's attorney's office for failing to repay a $190,000 loan from the county. The suit says he defrauded the county because he knew the loan could never be repaid because of the agency's shattered finances.
Last year, a state audit found that the agency was $1 million in debt.
Flowers will face additional charges of misapplication of funds Friday, when he is expected to appear at the Cook County courthouse in Maywood, authorities said.