Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What prompted attack on Prenzler? 'You need to know Madison County history'

By Record News | Apr 4, 2017

James Foley, whose son Matt Foley allegedly shoved Madison County board chairman Kurt Prenzler across a church hall so his father could insult him, failed to prove in court that Prenzler wronged him.

In 2013, U.S. district judge Patrick Murphy halted a trial and granted judgment against Foley’s claim that Prenzler fired him for his political affiliation.

Murphy apologized to jurors, thanked them, and sent them home.

“No reasonable jury could have found that plaintiff’s political affiliation was a sufficient condition of his termination because there was nothing more than a mere scintilla of evidence that defendant Prenzler even knew what plaintiff’s politics were,” Murphy wrote.

He found overwhelming evidence that Prenzler, treasurer at the time, would have fired Foley for violating investment policy regardless of his political affiliation.

Prenzler achieved further vindication in 2015, when Foley’s favorite investment firm paid $340,000 to settle a claim. 

Voters promoted Prenzler from treasurer to chairman last November.

On March 11, he attended a fundraiser at St. Mary and St. Mark church in Madison.

As he waited for a soft drink at the bar, brothers Matt and Mark Foley approached.

According to the police report, Matt Foley said, “I want you to know my face because one day you are going to see it again.”

Prenzler told police he followed them to their table and asked their names.

Matt Foley took hold of him, according to police, and shoved him to his father.

Prenzler told police that James Foley called him a piece of shit.

Witness Daniel Krekovich corroborated the comment.

State’s attorney Thomas Gibbons later charged Matt Foley with threatening a public official, a felony carrying two to five years in prison.

Gibbons also charged him with aggravated battery, under state law that elevates misdemeanor battery to a felony if a victim has turned 60.

Prenzler turned 61 in February.

Gibbons did not charge Mark Foley, a Glen Carbon police lieutenant.

Mark Foley told Madison police, “I was put into something I didn’t know I was involved in.”

When Madison police asked Prenzler why it happened, he said they needed to know Madison County history.

Former treasurer Fred Bathon hired Foley as investment officer in 1998, and kept him in that position at $2,000 a month after he retired.

Bathon resigned in 2009, and county board chairman Alan Dunstan appointed Frank Miles to replace him.

Miles ran for the job in 2010, and Prenzler defeated him.

Prenzler found that the county invested $41 million in bonds with maturities of 12 to 15 years, through Sterne Agee broker Richard Holt of Little Rock, Ark.

Prenzler found that the county’s investment policy limited bonds to 10 years, and that most county treasurers in Illinois limited them to two years.

On Dec. 14, 2010, he fired Foley.

In June 2011, Prenzler announced that he sold the bonds at a loss of $360,000.

He wrote that at one point, the bonds had lost $3.5 million on paper.

“The market gave us an opportunity to exit these risky and illegal investments for a minimal loss, and we took it,” Prenzler wrote.

Next he filed a complaint against Sterne Agee and Holt at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, alleging fraud and negligence.

In December 2011, Foley sued Prenzler and the county in U.S. district court.

Foley’s lawyer, Lee Barron of Alton, claimed a First Amendment violation.

He wrote that Foley was born in 1940, and resided in Granite City.

“Plaintiff was loosely associated with the Democratic party and generally supported Democratic candidates,” Barron wrote.

“Foley wisely and appropriately invested Madison County investments with the approval of Frank Miles and other county officials.

“Foley made no investments without the approval of his superiors.”

He wrote that if Prenzler had held the bonds until October, he could have sold them at face value and would have earned at least $80,000 more in interest.

“Prenzler was and is a Republican,” Barron wrote. “Prenzler defeated a Democrat in the race for county treasurer.”

He wrote that Prenzler terminated five other employees affiliated with the Democratic party.

The court clerk assigned the action to District Judge Michael Reagan, who set a jury trial for June 2013.

Prenzler retained Courtney Cox, of the Sandberg Phoenix firm, and Cox moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on which to grant relief.

In February 2013, after deposing Foley, Cox moved for summary judgment.

“Prenzler did not ask Foley about his political affiliation,” Cox wrote.

“Foley admits he did not tell Prenzler he was affiliated with the Democratic party.

“Foley testified that Prenzler did not care whether Foley was affiliated with a political party.”

He wrote that Foley said, “I have no idea whether he knew I was a Democrat or not.”

“While Prenzler’s decision to sell the bonds has been debated extensively in the news media and many different opinions have been expressed on this issue, the sale of the bonds is not an issue that is relevant to the issue presented here,” Cox wrote.

“The sole issue here is whether Foley was discharged because he is a Democrat.”

Prenzler’s motion to dismiss remained pending, and Reagan denied it that March.

“Foley alleges that defendants terminated his employment in a non policy making position with the Madison County treasurer’s office not for any professional competency based reasons but instead, merely because of his political patronage,” Reagan wrote.

Barron opposed summary judgment that April, writing that Prenzler’s stated reason for terminating Foley was pretextual.

“Prenzler’s political blitzkreig aimed at employees who were associated with the former Democratic treasurer is ample evidence of an illegal motivation to survive summary judgment,” Barron wrote.

He wrote that Prenzler replaced Foley with an extremely active political supporter.

“The bonds had different maturity dates but Madison County never held them for more than 18 months,” Barron wrote.

“By selling the bonds within the 18 month period, there was no violation of any investment policy.

“It is not sufficient for defendants to argue that Prenzler did not know that Foley was a Democrat.

“Prenzler knew that Foley was associated with the Democrats Prenzler had just defeated.”

Reagan denied summary judgment that May 13, finding Foley presented a prima facie case of discrimination based on political motivation.

On May 31, ten days before trial, Reagan announced a calendar conflict and transferred the action to Murphy.

Murphy pushed the trial back a day, and presided over jury selection on June 11.

Barron examined Foley that day, and Cox began cross examination.

On June 12, Cox asked Foley if after the election, he went to deputy treasurer Rachel Bathon for approval.

“I went to her and said Rachel, we have the opportunity to put in the portfolio this particular type of callable step ups,” Foley said.

He said she commented that it went beyond 10 years. He said he explained that each and every one would be out of the portfolio within 18 months to two years.

Cox asked if he went to Rachel for approval for each and every transaction, and Foley said, “I believe so.”

Cox: “This was verbal approval, not in writing, correct?”

Foley: “Yes it was.”

Cox brought up Foley’s first meeting with Prenzler and said, “Kurt didn’t say anything about your politics, did he?”

Foley: “No, but I did…. I’m sorry I made a mistake when I initially told you at the deposition.

“Later, after talking to my wife that evening, she said Jim, you told me that you had told, in these terms, that Kurt, I may be a Democrat but I can work with you, in a casual conversation.”

Cox: “Were you here, Mr. Foley, when your attorney gave his opening statement?”

Foley said he was.

Cox: “Did you notice that your attorney, in the opening statement, did not mention that?”

Barron objected, and Murphy declared recess.

When the door shut behind the jurors, Murphy said the papers he got never indicated direct evidence that the defendant knew the plaintiff’s politics.

“I know that wasn’t mentioned in the opening statement,” Murphy said. “I was listening.”

He asked Barron when he found out the witness would testify to this, and Barron said three or four days ago.

Murphy asked if he updated his answers to interrogatories, and Barron said no.

Cox said Barron didn’t mention it in his brief on summary judgment.

Murphy asked Cox what relief he sought, and Cox said he needed to think about it.

Murphy said he would let Cox continue his cross examination.

When Cox finished his cross examination, Barron rested.

Cox then called Rachel Bathon, by name of Rachel Kusmierczak.

He asked if Foley came to her for approval of investments after the election, and she said no.

He asked if Foley discussed investments with her, and she said there might have been general discussions.

“They definitely were not to ask if he could make an investment decision or purchase,” she said.

Cox asked if she ever approved an investment, and she said no.

Prenzler testified, and Murphy sent the jury out.

“The evidence that he has is that he told the defendant here that he was a Democrat,” Murphy said.

“Now that’s good evidence if the court is to consider it.”

He said there wasn’t a whiff of it in the motions and papers.

Murphy said it would have made a tough decision easy for Reagan.

He granted judgment for Prenzler.

Meanwhile, Prenzler’s complaint against Sterne Agee resulted in discovery that the county paid hundreds of thousands in commissions.

Prenzler added to his complaint of fraud and negligence a claim for disgorgement, arguing that Sterne Agee failed to disclose its exorbitant commissions.

The hearing didn’t happen, and the county recovered most of the commissions.

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