Monday, April 4, 2016

Relief Fraud in Centerville, Illinois

Scandal rocked St. Clair County, Illinois, when the Alton Evening Telegraph hit the news stands on 14 December 1939. A Centerville Township supervisor had been indicted, along with several aids, on charges of relief fraud.

Indict 9 in Relief Probe of St. Clair
Centerville Township Supervisor, Aides Are Named

BELLEVILLE, Dec. 14 (AP) -- Albert Ulrich, former relief administrator in Centerville Township, adjacent to East St. Louis, and eight other persons were indicted by a St. Clair county grand jury today on charges of relief irregularities. 

The indictments were partly the results of an investigation instituted after the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission named an acting administrator, and declared 36.5 percent of the persons receiving relief allotments were not in need.

Five indictments were returned, charging falsification of public records, conspiracy to defraud, and making application for "relief" not required. Ulrich, who is Centerville Township supervisor, was named in four.

Named with Ulrich on a charge of falsification of relief records were his two sisters, Miss Josephine Ulrich and Mrs. Louise Ulrich Reiff, and a case worker, Miss Dorothy Bruce.

Dr. Walter Boyne, former St. Clair county coroner, was named with Ulrich on a similar charge. 

Defendants in the indictment charging conspiracy to defraud are Ulrich; Francis Touchette, a township highway commissioner; August Ulrich, an East St. Louis druggist; Max Lane, an employee at relief headquarters; Herman Harris, a negro; and Miss Bruce and Mrs. Reiff. Touchette was also charged with "making application for relief not required."

Assistant General Timothy J. Sullivan, who helped State's Attorney Louis P. Zerweck present the evidence to the grand jury, said some of the charges grew out of alleged payments of personal bills with relief funds charged to accounts of clients, with the records covering the transactions falsified.

In the case involving Ulrich and Dr. Boyne, Sullivan said an allowance was alleged to have been made for an operation on a negro woman who never underwent such treatment.

The case went to trial in January 1940. It transpired, according to the Freeport Journal-Standard, that Ulrich's chief accuser was Mrs. Tillie Toth, the relief office administrator and sister-in-law of my grand aunt, Verna (Muir) Burglechner.

St. Clair County Courthouse; photograph courtesy of the Belleview Historical

Mrs. Toth testified that she wrote a check on Ulrich's orders for $50 in the name of Henry Nunn, a negro, and that the check was given to Dr. Irene Waters, East St. Louis dentist, in paying a dental bill for work on Miss Josephine Ulrich, the former relief administrator's sister and an employee in the relief office. Testifying in his own defense, Ulrich claimed he did not issue any orders in the relief office and that checks for clients were signed in advance in blank. Ulrich said because he did so much night work on relief cases he frequently did not go into the office during the day. Mrs. Toth, his chief assistant handled the affairs of the office. However, under cross-examination Ulrich was forced to identify 11 written orders he had signed that were sent to relief clients.

Then, in a strange turn of events Ulrich and five others were acquitted, according to a 16 December 1940 article in the Daily Independent, while four of the state's chief witnesses against Ulrich were indicted, including Tillie Toth, her mother, Mary Burglechner, and her brother Frank Burglechner, my grand aunt's husband.

16 December 1940 article in the Murphysboro, Illinois, Daily
; image courtesy of the Illinois Historical Society

The Edwardsville Intelligencer reported on 31 December 1940 that the indictments against Tillie, her mother and brother were dismissed upon the motion of the Illinois Attorney General John E. Cassidy who told the Circuit Court judge presiding over the case they had been granted immunity for testifying for the state in Ulrich's trial.

Prosecutors must have appealed Ulrich's acquittal verdict and in a new trial, Ulrich and his sisters, were convicted. Because on 10 April 1941 the Alton Evening Telegraph reported the Illinois Supreme court had reversed his conviction on charges of falsifying relief records and remanded the case to the St. Clair County Circuit Court for a new trial. In a surprising twist, Ulrich had been re-elected supervisor of Centerville township after his conviction!

In quite a stinging indictment on Tillie Toth's motivations, Chief Justice Walter I. Gunn wrote in the majority opinion, "Tillie Toth was not a disinterested witness. She had something against Albert Ulrich and Louise and it is quite evident she bore a strong feeling of animosity against the siblings." Earlier in the opinion Gunn had called Toth's actions "extremely ambiguous conduct."

I could find no additional articles about the third trial of Albert Ulrich, but in a case filled with strange twists and turns there had to be one more. And, of course, there was.

Because Ulrich had been re-elected township supervisor, he was again the administrator of the Centerville Relief office. The Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC) was clearly not happy about this state of affairs, and barred the release of money to pay Centerville relief claims because they were waiting for Ulrich to be "qualified in accordance with the law to administer the funds." Illinois Attorney General George F. Barrett was having none of it, however. He ordered IERC to release the funds.

And I feel like I have barely escaped a legal maze caused by dirty Illinois politics.

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