Chicago (CBS) — The South Chicago Chamber of Commerce says on its Facebook page, it works to strengthen businesses in the neighborhood. But, the Chicago Inspector General says the chamber struggled to keep up and control its own finances.
A lifetime ban from doing business with the city went into effect last month, but the inspector general says the problems started years ago.
Bernard Shannon is proud to run a business on South Commercial Avenue. What he’s not proud of is the chamber of commerce after learning of its standing with the city.
“I didn’t expect this. It’s like you threw me a curveball here,” Shannon said.
The chamber was once on good terms with the city. For 2015, the chamber partnered with the city to manage a special service area, where people pay higher property taxes to fund business-friendly programs like beautification and promotional events.
CBS 2 obtained an inspector general report that states chamber executive director Dan Lira somehow got access to special service area checks and forged the signature of a special service area commissioner appointed by the city.
Inspector General Joe Ferguson says Lira then deposited three checks, totalling more than $5,700, into a bank account Lira controlled, with the help of a friend who worked at a bank.
“It should be frustrating for the public and especially the taxpayers that this sort of stuff can go on, especially in relation to obscure government programs that they’re not even aware of,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson says others learned of the alleged forgery, and Lira then paid the money back using chamber of commerce funds.
The address the chamber lists online was caged and its door locked Friday.
Lira said over the phone last week the allegations are false and the chamber would like to work with the city. He would not comment when asked via text message Friday if the chamber is still functioning.
Another organization now manages the local special service area.
Ferguson says the state’s attorney’s office has to decide whether Lira will face criminal charges. He says Lira’s friend who worked at the bank is facing criminal charges.
Ferguson also says the lifetime ban did not go into effect until last month because his office had to work with the state’s attorney’s office to investigate, and the city had to give the chamber and Lira time to respond to the allegation.
The state’s attorney’s office has not responded to CBS 2’s calls as of Friday evening.
Lira declined requests for an interview.