Trial begins for pair accused of taking money from DuPage Forest Preserve District

Almost three years to the day after they were formally charged, two of the three men who allegedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County into businesses they were affiliated with had their first day on trial.

The district's former IT department manager David Tepper and IT contractor Arif Mahmood came before Judge Liam Brennan Sept. 14 to defend contracts totalling nearly $200,000.

A third alleged accomplice, the former department director Mark McDonald, was due in court but had his next court date pushed back until Oct. 22 due to a medical issue.

Prosecutors have levied several hundred total counts of theft, conspiracy, unlawful conduct, bribery and other charges through November 2011 on the three men, when a district investigation – which one defense attorney called a "witch hunt" – uncovered the alleged activity.

In his opening statements, prosecutor Fred Flather detailed three specific "schemes" leading to the slew of charges.

Flather said McDonald began working at the district in May 2002. In October of the same year, former coworker Tepper formed IT business Integrated Design Solutions and the business began receiving its first invoices – approved by McDonald – in February 2013.

Tepper was hired as McDonald's right-hand man at the district in September 2005, and McDonald began working at Integrated Design Solutions in 2008, approving payments that he was now receiving a cut of. The pair also allegedly charged the district for items that could later not be accounted for.

The same year, Tepper became an agent for firm USA Digital, which gives commissions to any business referred to it. In January 2009, the pair made a presentation to the district's Board of Commissioners including provider Quest, which contracts out with USA Digital – meaning profits for Tepper – without disclosing their relationship to USA Digital.

They are also accused of steering the district into awarding a contract to Mahmood's company, Alamach Technology to archive district data and emails district data. Mahmood then hired Tepper and McDonald to help build out his system infrastructure in an alleged kickback setup.

After the investigations, Tepper was fired and McDonald quit in November 2011, though the district's contracts with Integrated Design Solutions continued into 2012 after nearly $1 million in payments.

Terry Ekl and Chris O'Malley, who represent Tepper and Mahmood respectively, both took issue with the narrative. Ekl said the "sham investigation" was originally the product of a need to cover up mismanagement of the district under former President Dewey Pierotti that included no inventory of IT items.

"The forest preserve lost zero — nothing — as a result of these alleged schemes," Ekl said.

He also contended that the district knew of Tepper and McDonald's side business, noting that current President Joseph Cantore even hired them to do work on Cantore's private business.

Ekl also said his client didn't break the law, as there were no restrictions on the USA Digital commission relationships.

O'Malley said his client was an honest businessman trying to grow his business. He pointed out the services never received a complaint and were competitively prized, showing there was no fraudulent intent.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.