MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) —Piatt County board chairman Ray Spencer surrendered to police at the Moultrie County Sheriff’s office Monday after a grand jury’s indictment in Monticello earlier that day.
Spencer was charged with four Class 3 felonies: two charges of forgery and two charges of official misconduct.
Following the grand jury’s indictment, a warrant was issued for Spencer’s arrest; he voluntarily surrendered to police nearly six hours after the jury’s verdict.
Due to potential conflicts of interest, Spencer was booked in the Moultrie County Jail.
And because the incidents that led to Spencer’s arrest involve Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades, Piatt County judge Jeremy Richey appointed Moultrie County State’s Attorney Tracy Weaver as a special prosecutor in the case; Weaver initiated Monday’s proceedings.
The charges stem from two November incidents between Spencer and Rhoades, one in which Spencer is said to have tampered with an email from Rhoades before sending it to a local newspaper for publication, and the second in which Spencer attempted to hire an outside attorney to advise board members during some of the county’s several budget hearings.
Spencer allegedly attempted to hire another lawyer after legal advice from Rhoades halted a November 13 meeting in which board members were prepared to vote on a 9.4 percent tax increase, as well as a temporary budget, in the same meeting.
Just before the vote, Rhoades, who sat in the audience that day, stood and told board members it wouldn’t be legal for them to approve a tax levy without first adopting a budget — on that agenda, members arranged to vote first on the levy, then on the budget.
In response, the board tabled both votes.
Thirteen days later, on November 26, the county board held two special meetings: one to approve the budget at 11 a.m. and one at 1 p.m. to approve the tax increase.
When asked during public comment about why the meetings had been scheduled in that manner — and not with both issues addressed at once — Spencer said the meetings had been arranged “on advice of legal counsel.”
But Rhoades said that guidance didn’t come from her.
Spencer declined to comment further on who specifically provided the advice, instead forwarding a November 22 email from Rhoades to the Piatt County Journal-Republican after “having deleted paragraphs (from the email)…(and) appending the digital signature of the Piatt County State’s Attorney to the altered document and causing it to be delivered to a news media outlet in the altered condition,” court documents say.
In full, the email included legal advice on the proper ordering of meetings, as well as a line from Rhoades emphasizing that no county officials were communicating with the State’s Attorney’s office as to when meetings could or would be scheduled, meaning she did not advise that two meetings be held two hours apart, Rhoades said.
For allegedly doctoring the email “for the purpose of defrauding another,” Spencer faces two charges of forgery and one charge of official misconduct.
The remaining charge comes from Spencer’s alleged attempt to hire an outside lawyer before the county’s long span of budgetary talks culminated in the two-meeting vote he said had been recommended to him by legal ‘counsel’; for that, he faces one charge of official misconduct.
According to Weaver, the entire Piatt County board knew of Spencer’s conduct, but allowed Spencer to remain board chair, regardless.
All of the charges Spencer faces are Class 3 felonies — meaning that if convicted, each charge calls for a sentence between 2.5-5 years in prison, including one year of mandatory supervision, probation for up to 2.5 years and a fine up to $25,000.
He is slated to be back in court on February 10.
Spencer has been board chair in Piatt County since early December 2018.
When reached for comment late Monday night, county board member Shannon Carroll said he believes some county board members knew more than others.
Carroll said he just learned of the allegations once Spencer was indicted Monday morning; a December 2 email from Rhoades to Carroll details the allegations — nearly a month before the indictment.
In fact, every single county board member received an email from Rhoades on December 2, detailing the allegations against Spencer.
Early Tuesday morning, board member Bob Murrell responded to a WCIA request for comment by saying he didn’t believe what had happened merited criminal charges.
“I would say perhaps mistakes may have been made, but ‘felonious?’ No,” Murrell wrote. “But the political sophistries are so frustrating, which is the main reason I am stepping down after only one term.”