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State and local law enforcement are probing spending at embattled public TV station WTVP

Tim Shelley
Tim Shelley
The Peoria-based station WTVP slashed $1.5 million from its $5 million budget partly as a result of alleged inappropriate spending. Nine employees were laid off, and Peoria magazine was placed on indefinite hiatus.

Both the Illinois attorney general's office and Peoria Police Department are now asking questions about the "questionable, improper, or unauthorized" spending at WTVP.

In a press release Tuesday, the public television station confirmed it received a request for information from the attorney general's office pertaining to its ongoing internal review into that spending.

The station says it is in communication and cooperating with the attorney general's office.

A police report regarding the ongoing internal review was also filed by WTVP board members accompanied by an attorney. Station representatives also met with a police detective. The television station said it is also cooperating with the Peoria Police Department's ongoing investigation.

The station slashed $1.5 million from its $5 million budget partly as a result of that alleged inappropriate spending. Nine employees were laid off, and Peoria magazine was placed on indefinite hiatus.

Former WTVP president and CEO Lesley Matuszak took her own life a day after resigning from the station in September. Former finance and human resources director Lin McLaughlin is also no longer with the station. Matuszak and McLaughlin previously worked together at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Peoria.

The station is currently in the process of applying for a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Board chairman Andrew Rand said a conversation with CPB officials Oct. 13 hit upon several points, including finishing up the station audit, establishing control policies for station spending, and amending the annual financial report.

WTVP plans to submit a letter to the CPB this week asking for a release of interim grant dollars pending completion of a financial station audit.

"It's not a sleight of hand trick. It's just following up on the phone call we had with them expressing work we did on every condition that they asked us for and what we've been able to complete," Rand said.

The CPB also requested a forensic audit conducted by a third-party firm. WTVP filed an employee theft claim with its insurance company, which has a maximum payout of $250,000. The insurance company won't cover the costs of a forensic audit, however.

"We're not going to be able to get our insurance company to pay for that. And frankly, the dollars we think are associated with that are more dollars than our treasury can handle," Rand said.

He said that audit isn't a requirement per the Oct. 13 conversation, however.

Rand alluded to auctions and special events as two areas where the station's board wasn't entirely confident in the numbers reported in the station's 2022 annual financial report.

The station is working with the National Telecommunications Education Association (NETA) to amend the AFR.

Treasurer Helen Barrick said they've modified a number of the station's financial controls to provide more checks and balances. That includes making sure station employees know how to code expenses internally.

"We are trying to do that so that we can certainly pull that out for granting agencies. We want to have them have faith in our ability to handle financial reporting," Barrick said.

Tamra Swiderski, the director of finance at NETA, said revenues are at $1.1 million, or about $162,000 under budget. She said the station is running a $450,000 deficit, which is around $262,000 more than anticipated for this point in the year.

Interim station manager Julie Sanders said she's taking a back-to-basics approach focusing on television and fundraising.

"We are definitely wounded but we are not down. We have a station here that is very feisty, and we have a 'show must go on' type of attitude," she said.'

Board vice chairman and development chair Sid Ruckriegel highlighted plans to launch a positive public relations blitz in the next couple weeks emphasizing WTVP's value to Central Illinois as the station solicits public support. That campaign will include videos from staff members.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.