OTTAWA — La Salle County auditor Jody Wilkinson was acquitted Friday of all felony charges.
After her trial judge entered not-guilty verdicts to each of the 11 counts in the alleged overtime scam — Wilkinson’s deputies still face charges — Wilkinson rose from the defense table and embraced Ottawa defense attorney Joe Navarro. Outside the courtroom, Wilkinson spoke matter-of-factly and didn’t comment on the accusations against her.
“I’m going to go through that door and go back to my office and continue to do the job I was elected to do,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson declined additional statements — she specifically wouldn’t address whether she would rehire her fired deputies — as did La Salle County state’s attorney Karen Donnelly, save for a parting shot at the acquitted.
“It looks like crime does pay — at time and a half,” Donnelly said.
Friday’s verdict ends only the first leg of a case begun last fall when a grand jury indicted deputy auditors Tori Artman and Pamela Wright, accusing both of pocketing less than $1,800 apiece in what prosecutors allege was fraudulent overtime. Wilkinson was indicted weeks later on Election Day, with charges alleging she knew about the scam and abetted it.
Friday, Judge Michael C. Jansz ruled the state failed to meet its burden of proof. Though Jansz said he accepted certain pieces of evidence advanced by the state, the case as he saw it came down to whether the overtime was legitimately claimed.
“There was no evidence they did not work overtime,” Jansz ruled, noting the work period called into question included the 2017 tornado and may indeed have produced more work for the auditor’s office.
And Jansz specifically shrugged off a pivotal piece of the state’s case.
At trial, Artman took the stand and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors, however, filed a surprise motion for “use immunity” — a pledge to not use Artman’s testimony against her that then barred her from invoking the Fifth.
Effectively forced to testify, Artman acknowledged the authenticity of a statement she had previously drawn up with her lawyer. In it, Artman had written that any overtime she accrued was awarded by her supervisor “without my knowledge or consent.”
Jansz said he didn’t buy it. He found a pair of time sheets from July 2017 bearing overtime marks in the same color ink as Artman used to sign her sheet, a sign to him that Artman had, consistent with Wilkinson’s testimony, discussed overtime compensation with her boss.
The rest of the case was circumstantial. Suspicions were raised when the county payroll supervisor noticed a sharp increase in overtime claims from Wilkinson’s office and after noticing discrepancies in the color ink used to mark approved overtime.
Navarro pointed out it’s easier to get an indictment than a conviction and said Jansz’s verdict was the correct one.
“I don’t believe it (the case) was right from the beginning and, on behalf of Jody, I appreciate the judge’s consideration,” Navarro said after the verdict.
With the cases against Artman and Wright still pending (both stand trial later this summer), La Salle County Board chairman Jim Olson (D-Seneca), who was present for the verdict, declined comment.