CHICAGO — A Chicago Department of Transportation employee was arrested Wednesday after she allegedly diverted more than $741,000 from fees submitted for city permit applications.
Antoinette Chenier, a city clerk for nearly 20 years, was charged with embezzlement following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division and the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General.
The 50-year-old Homewood resident worked for CDOT and Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communication since 1993, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. At CDOT, she was involved in processing moving van and dumpster permit fees.
It was there that Chenier allegedly diverted funds from checks written by companies that applied for and received city permits to block public ways with dumpsters or moving vans, according to a criminal complaint.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, bank records show that Chenier opened a personal bank account in August 2008 and a business account at the same bank in March 2009 under the name “OEMC Chenier.” Between August 2008 and January of this year, she allegedly deposited several hundred checks, totaling $741,299, into her personal and business accounts.
The city charges a $25 daily fee for residential moving vans and between $50 and $200 per dumpster, depending on the size, location and length of time the dumpster will be on a city street. Although CDOT issues the permits and collects payment, the checks are often made payable to OEMC, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Chenier is alleged to have "deposited several hundred checks" since 2008, including $59,667 in her personal account and $681,632 into the "OEMC Chenier" account. Both accounts were frozen in January when Chenier's "unusual banking activity" was discovered by the bank, officials said.
When questioned by a bank employee in January, Chenier reportedly asked the teller "not to report this," court documents state.
“Please don’t call the check makers, I will lose my job,” Chenier allegedly told the bank employee.
Chenier appeared in U.S. District Court Wednesday afternoon and was released on her own recognizance — under standard conditions and without posting bail — by Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan. A judge set an April 15 status hearing on her case.
"These alleged acts of embezzlement by a CDOT employee are completely unacceptable, and we commend the Federal Investigators and the Inspector General's Office for their efforts to root out wrongdoing and protect taxpayers," CDOT spokesman Pete Scales said in a written statement.
"We are working with investigators to determine exactly what happened, and are immediately moving to improve our security measures to ensure this criminal behavior cannot happen again," he added, noting that the department has a Chicago address for Chenier — in accordance with the requirement that city workers reside in Chicago.
Embezzlement carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.