By: Mark Fitzgerald
The Chicago Defender fired its entire accounting department after uncovering a scheme in which paychecks were issued and cashed in the name of employees who were no longer working at the black-oriented daily, E&P has learned.
Current and former employees say the accounting department staff of four was fired for issuing and cashing checks supposedly for two newsroom employees — a reporter and a page designer — who left the paper shortly after former Executive Editor Roland Martin resigned. The scheme had apparently gone on for two months, the employees said.
Police officers were at the Defender offices Monday presumably investigating the apparent embezzling, according to one person, who insisted on anonymity. Staff have been warned at meetings not to talk to the press — and specifically not to E&P, this person said.
A Chicago Police Department spokesman told E&P he not yet seen any paperwork relating to a police investigation or arrests.
“This week has been a really crazy week,” a Defender employee said.
The scheme struck another person familiar with the situation as not just unsophisticated — but foolhardy. All checks are cut through Defender parent Real Times Inc., which is presumably notified when someone on the small staff leaves the job.
“I’m trying to figure how the corporate CFO didn’t realize they’re no longer with the company,” this person said. “This is not a large company. There are 12 or 14 people in the newsroom — and maybe 30 in the whole Chicago Defender.”
Real Times CEO Hiram Jackson did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Real Times Chairman and founder Thomas Picou said in an e-mail to E&P that “I do not have sufficient information on the incident to make any comment.”