School Official Charged Gavin Leader Faces 2 Misconduct Counts

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Byline: Tony Gordon and Lee Filas

Gavin Elementary District 37 board President Barbara Mende has been charged with official misconduct and felony theft.

Mende, 36, was charged Thursday with official misconduct by the Illinois attorney general's office after she was accused of splitting a $13,000 moving contract in two to avoid competitive bidding.

In addition, the Lake County state's attorney's office charged Mende with felony theft because she is accused of padding her paycheck while working in the payroll department of the Lake County Fairgrounds.

Mende was arrested Thursday at her home at 25567 W. Grant Drive in Ingleside. Efforts to reach Mende Thursday were unsuccessful.

On the official misconduct charge, state's attorney's office investigator Lou Archbold said Mende arranged to have a bill for $13,000 separated. That bill, for moving furniture back into Gavin Central School when that building was being reopened last December, was submitted to the board on two invoices for $6,500 each.

According to Archibald, Mende split up the invoices to avoid a competitive bidding process that would have been required had the single bill been submitted.

When the move was made in 2006, former Gavin Superintendent Pam Rockwood and some Gavin board members protested splitting the invoices because they felt it was illegal to bypass the bid process.

But Mende said during the December board meeting she didn't feel it was a violation and said"... if there's a problem from it, I'll take the hit."

Board members Steve Moulis, Christine Johnson and Phil Mack agreed with Mende and voted to split the invoices.

Moulis refused to comment on the issue Thursday, while Johnson and Mack did not return phone calls.

Attorney general officials referred to the state statute in the charge, claiming Mende "knowingly performed an act which she knew was forbidden."

Gavin Superintendent John Ahlemeyer - who was not with the district when the invoices were split - said through a news release the district is working with the state's attorney's office to understand the charges.

"The district has contacted the state's attorney's office to confirm information concerning these charges," he said. "In the meantime, the district will defer to the judicial process. …