OIEG Releases Information on Conflict of Interest Case at TRS

By Benjamin Cox on September 8, 2021 at 12:39pm

The Illinois Teacher Retirement System is shedding a bit of light on why several of their top executives were either terminated or resigned last year.

A recent Office of the Illinois Inspector General investigation focused on conflicts of interest held by a former TRS employee has been released. You can read the full report here.

The OEIG investigation revealed that former Chief Information Officer Jay Singh was actively involved with the awarding of work to candidates provided by a subcontractor of which he was the President and Chief Executive Officer. According to the report, Singh claimed to have resigned from his company Singh 3 Consulting, Incorporated and severed all ties when TRS hired him full time. Singh’s company had been hired on as consultants for TRS’s and specifically Singh was hired on October 1st, 2018 to be project manager of the new Gemini project, a pay-period reporting program for the state’s teacher retirement system.

The OIEG report maintains that Singh and his relatives remained involved with the company. In addition, more than $30,000 in payments were made by the company to a credit card account through transactions that referenced Singh after he became a full-time TRS employee. The OEIG concluded that the employee violated TRS’ conflicts of interest policy.

The OEIG also said in its report that senior TRS management, including former TRS Chief Financial Officer Jana Bergschneider and former TRS Executive Director Richard Ingram failed to perform a detailed analysis of whether Singh had truly severed ties with his company. Singh has now been blacklisted from ever being hired by the State of Illinois and his company to ever contract with the state ever again.

The OEIG recommended that TRS implement more detailed conflict of interest policies for its organization.

TRS has responded to the report saying that the payment of benefits were not disrupted by the conflict of interest or by the OIEG investigation. TRS praised the 8 whistleblowers within the organization who filed complaints against Singh beginning in 2019. TRS says that an internal investigation also yielded similar findings, resulting in 5 executives leaving the system last year which include Chief Financial Officer Jana Bergschneider being terminated in June and Executive Director Richard Ingram’s resignation in August as well as Singh’s resignation and resignations from general counsel and the chief human resources officer all taking place in August of last year.

The Illinois Times reported in October that TRS paid nearly $700,000 on lawyers to investigate both Bergschneider and Ingram in the case. Since November 2020, Bergschneider has worked as the chief fiscal officer and human resource director at the state’s Office of the State Appellate Defender. According to the Illinois Times, the FBI expressed interest in the matter last year but nothing further has been released on the matter.

TRS also terminated several outside consultants and developers who played a part in the scheme. TRS has also implemented a new whistleblower hotline to allow employees to raise anonymous complaints involving any type of impropriety to eliminate retaliation. Singh nor any of the resigned executives have been charged with any crimes in relation to the case.

With $53.4 billion in its investment portfolio, TRS is the state’s largest pension system. In the 2020 fiscal year, TRS’ assumed rate of return for its pension investments was 7%, but the actual rate of return was only 0.6%, according to a final report published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability earlier this summer.