Robert Wharton, the leader of one of the state’s largest nonprofits, was ousted from the organization, its board announced today.
The move follows a Tribune report earlier this week that Wharton, chief executive officer of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, had fallen behind in payments a Cook County judge had ordered him to make to his former secretary.
As part of that case, the Cook County public guardian alleged that Wharton financially exploited his one-time employee, Dorothy Hork, who is 91 years old and has dementia, by coaxing her over several years to write him checks for tens of thousands of dollars.
“(The board) decided to seek quick and decisive action and Bob has been relieved of all of his duties,” said CEDA spokesman Abe Thompson. “He is no longer with the organization.”
Wharton said Thursday he was saddened by the decision, but understood the board’s action.
“Through these kinds of experiences we learn quite a bit about ourselves and others,” Wharton said. “And so I will trust on my personal beliefs and regroup and stay focused on the things that I need to do to survive and live a decent life.”
While not admitting fault, Wharton had agreed in 2011 to repay Hork $78,000 through monthly installments. But he subsequently defaulted on that agreement after writing checks that bounced due to insufficient funds.
Cook County public guardian Robert Harris moved to have Wharton held in criminal contempt and, last month, Circuit Court Judge Ann Collins-Dole ordered him to produce the $71,000 he still owes Hork.
On Wednesday, Wharton told Collins-Dole he did not have enough money to make a lump sum payment but agreed to use his retirement funds to catch up to the settlement arrangement.
Collins-Dole ordered him to pay $17,400 by the end of the month.
Wharton was appointed by the board in 1997 to head CEDA, which is a Chicago-based nonprofit that boasts a variety of assistance programs for Cook County residents, including child and family development, housing and weatherization.
Thompson could not say exactly what considerations the board made Wednesday in arriving at a decision to fire Wharton. But Thompson refuted Wharton’s statements earlier this week that his personal difficulties did not have professional implications.
“Those things also raise issues professionally,” Thompson said. “You have an organization whose mission is to serve the community and has certain fiduciary responsibilities. So, shouldn’t the leadership reflect that?”