Engineer quits amid Ill. porn investigation

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Josh Richardson started work for the city of Cape Girardeau on May 15.

Cape Girardeau city engineer Josh Richardson resigned Friday amid an investigation by the Illinois attorney general's office of pornographic images found on a computer in the McDonough County, Ill., highway department, where Richardson previously worked.

Richardson had served as Cape Girardeau's city engineer for the past six weeks. But he resigned Friday. City officials announced he had resigned for "personal reasons."

Richardson resigned only weeks after the Peoria Journal Star newspaper reported in mid-June that pornographic images had been found on a computer that had been assigned to Richardson while he was county engineer for McDonough County.

The investigation began last October, Illinois officials said.

But Cape Girardeau city manager Doug Leslie said he wasn't aware of the pornography investigation when Richardson was hired. Richardson began working as Cape Girardeau's city engineer on May 15. He hasn't been charged with a crime.

"We did an extensive background check," Leslie said. But he said it can be difficult to find out everything about an applicant because of privacy laws.

Mayor Jay Knudtson said an applicant's references aren't going to list people who are going to say something bad about that person.

"This gentleman was in no way carrying any kind of record or any kind of legal proceedings that would have led Doug to any other conclusion than the one he came to," Knudtson said.

The news accounts didn't surface until after Richardson was hired, the mayor said.

Knudtson said the city manager "moved swiftly" to address the matter.

Leslie said Richardson wasn't fired, but resigned.

"Obviously that is something he will need to work with," Leslie said of the criminal investigation underway in Illinois.

Richardson couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday. He initially had a listed telephone number. But that has been changed to an unlisted number, according to the local telephone service.

Leslie said as far as he knows Richardson didn't misuse his computer at city hall.

The city manager said the city has strict policies regarding use of city computers. There also are passwords needed to use the computers, he said.

Leslie said Richardson did a good job as city engineer in his short tenure.

Richardson supervised the recent improvements to Water Street as well as the Commercial Street paving work. "He was able to carry out a lot of things we wanted to see happening in the engineering division," Leslie said.

Richardson was hired as city engineer with the goal of better informing the public about plans for street construction and other public works projects.

Assistant city engineer Abdul Alkadry, who recently was licensed by the state as a professional engineer, will serve as acting city engineer until a new department head can be hired.

Public works director Tim Gramling, who also is a licensed engineer, will help with the city's engineering needs for now.

"Ongoing projects will continue to progress without delay," Leslie said.

The investigation in Illinois began last October when police received complaints that there was pornography on Richardson's office computer, said Rick Manser, chief deputy of the McDonough County Sheriff's Department in Macomb, Ill.

Bob Harwick, chairman of the McDonough County board, then turned over the computer to investigators with Western Illinois University. Harwick told reporters that WIU investigators had the necessary software to extract deleted images from the computer.

The investigators found pornographic images and the case was turned over to the Illinois attorney general's office, Illinois officials said.

Others had access

According to the Peoria newspaper, Harwick said the computer was technically assigned to Richardson but that other employees in the department had access to the computer. No password was required to use the computer, Illinois officials said.

Manser said the sheriff's department asked the attorney general's office to investigate to avoid any conflict of interest and that the attorney general's office took over the investigation last fall.

He said Richardson wasn't interviewed by the sheriff's office during the short time that the county law enforcement agency investigated the case.

"We felt it was best that someone outside the county do the investigation," he said. "There has been a lot of turmoil between the county board and employees at the highway department."

Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the Illinois attorney general's office, declined to discuss the investigation.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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