Citizen Staff Writer
By GARRY DUFFY
Pima County will provide the legal defense for former Supervisor Dan Eckstrom in a lawsuit brought by a former grants administrator who claims that South Tucson and Eckstrom stole grant money.
“We defend and indemnify county employees,” said Chris Straub, chief deputy civil counsel for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. “He was sued in his capacity as a former supervisor.”
Eckstrom resigned in 2003 after serving 15 years on the elected county Board of Supervisors. No other member of the five-member board was named in the suit. Eckstrom served on South Tucson’s City Council for 17 years.
The U.S. District Court lawsuit was filed in June by Steven John Kreamer, South Tucson’s special emphasis coordinator for grants from 1999 to 2005. It claims that city officials and Eckstrom engaged in fraud, conversion and racketeering involving federal grant funds. Kreamer’s salary was paid using grant money.
Kreamer claimed compensation for his work was “significantly lower” than the pay city officials listed for him on Internal Revenue Service forms and contends he is owed the difference.
No city official or Eckstrom has been charged with a crime based on Kreamer’s allegations.
Eckstrom could not be reached for comment; he did not return two calls to his listed telephone number. He declined comment shortly after the suit was filed.
South Tucson officials are answering questions from the U.S. Justice Department over use of funds from a $450,000 Weed and Seed anti-crime program for three years starting in 2001. The city must return more than $44,000 in grant money for the program during those years, say officials of the U.S. agency’s Office of Justice Programs.
Justice Department bookkeepers questioned expenditures charged to the Weed and Seed program and contend the city accounted for $407,848.
Federal officials want the city to return $42,152 from that source, plus $2,117 used to buy folding chairs and to make a donation to a civil rights organization.
“We will write a check for $44,000,” acting City Manager Ruben Villa said.
Federal officials questioned the city’s salaries for Kreamer and another official.
City officials originally set the salary for Weed and Seed program coordinator at $36,000. That was increased to $52,500 in the third year of the grant.
Villa said pay was raised because the coordinator had extensive law enforcement experience.
The other compensation package questioned was Kreamer’s. He was hired in 1999 at a salary of $26,000 a year plus benefits.
Villa said the position was changed to that of an outside consultant. As a contractor, Kreamer did not receive benefits, so the compensation package was revised to include the value of the benefits in Kreamer’s pay after the change – $40,080 per year.
It was up to the city to set the salaries and benefits, “not some guideline coming out of Washington,” Villa said.
The issue over salaries has not been resolved, Villa said.
Justice Department officials have declined comment.